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Hall reviews "King Richard"
King Richard

This week on "Justin Hall At The Movies," I'll be reviewing Will Smith as Venus and Serena Williams' father pushing them towards tennis glory in "King Richard."

King Richard is a film that defies the conventional biopic formula by giving us a sense of nuance in its structure and ultimately becoming more and more engrossing as it progresses. It also features Will Smith at the top of his game in a role that tests his merits as an actor.

Smith stars as Richard Williams living in Compton with his wife and five daughters. Two of them are named Venus (Saniyya Sydney) and Serena (Demi Singleton). Richard raises the two girls with an iron fist, destined to mold them into great tennis players by saying he made a 78-page plan for their lives and drilling the mantra of "If you fail to plan, you can plan to fail" into their heads.

Richard comes under intense scrutiny for his unorthodox methods on how to train Venus and it leads to a number of confrontations with their next-door neighbor and even the police. Nevertheless, he remains steadfast in his pursuit.

Eventually, Richard is able to find a coach for Venus in the form of Rick Macci (Jon Bernathal) who wants to shape Venus in a way that seems to be somewhat conflicted from how Richard molds her. These two get some scenes of exchanges where both men are playing a tug of war over Venus' athletic destiny.

King Richard does center around the journey that both girls take in order to reach superstardom, but Serena's journey is sketched in and her story doesn't go as far into detail as her sister's.

Going into it, I thought King Richard had potential to a by-the-numbers biopic, bur Smith's performance makes it stand out due to being just as focused and committed as his real life counterpart. He refuses to compromise on anything that could stand in the way of his daughter reaching for the stars, but he also makes a lot of enemies in the process due to his uncompromising methods. It's a driven, unflinching portrayal at a man who loves his daughters and wants a better life for them than what he had. He's got a shot at an Oscar.

Another theme is the sense of togetherness the family has. Even though they're bonded by the hope that Venus and Serena will make it in the world of tennis, they're also grounded in terms allowing their daughters to enjoy the game and not be so wound up in the spirit of competitiveness. This is movie that knows equally as much about the importance of family as it does the importance of tennis.

Game, set, and match to this movie. It's one of the year's best.

Grade: A - (Rated PG-13 for some violence, strong language, a sexual reference, and brief drug references.)

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