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(L-r) AUNJANUE ELLIS as Oracene “Brandy” Williams, MIKAYLA BARTHOLOMEW as Tunde Price, WILL SMITH as Richard Williams, SANIYYA SIDNEY as Venus Williams, DEMI SINGLETON as Serena Williams and DANIELE LAWSON as Isha Price in Warner Bros. Pictures’ inspiring drama “KING RICHARD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

If you watch one movie with the family over the Thanksgiving break, make it the Will Smith-starring King Richard. This is one of those once-in-a-while sports dramas with so much to offer beyond good feels and a touching message. It’s the full package, showcasing many of the year’s very best acting performances, film direction, screenwriting, cinematography, editing — we could go through nearly every filmmaking category. It’s just that well made, in addition to being a smart, moving and intense film that takes big swings and makes contact every time. 

For many, the story of Venus and Serena Williams (portrayed with astonishing grace and heart by Saniyaa Sidney and Demi Singleton in King Richard) is only known after they arrived like an earthquake on the tennis scene and shook the game’s foundation with their one-two punch of incredible talent. They held the No. 1 world title for a combined 327 weeks and won 127 singles titles altogether. The Williams devotion to one another and familial love pushed them through personal challenges and numerous battles on the court. What happened leading up to their history-making success is the great stuff of King Richard

This is a loving tribute to not only the Williams sisters’ upbringing under the stern but fair rule of their father, the self-sacrificing Richard Williams (a never-better Smith), but also their loving mother, Oracene “Brandy” Williams (an equally as powerful Aunjanue Ellis). She challenges Richard - and the audience - with her many teachable moments and extraordinary strength. 

One of my favorite quotes of all-time is “speak softly and carry a big pen.” I’ve tried to carry that with me everywhere I go as a writer because it’s so easy these days to allow the outside noise to consume you. And King Richard is all about the value in being humble. Among its simple beauty, cleverness and good laughs (Jon Bernthal’s tennis coach character will widen your smiles throughout) is an authentically human story about staying true to yourself, showing respect and spreading kindness. It sounds like a typical sports movie message, but King Richard handles it with class and makes a lasting impact. 

Feel your heart grow in size and absorb this film’s beauty from top to bottom. 

Highlights:

  • An unforgettable kitchen scene between Mr. Smith and Ms. Ellis. It will lock your attention into place with its dramatic force. Seriously. Two of the very best performances of the year.
  • It’s overall Moneyball-like tone and narrative structure. (A personal fave of mine.)
  • Another shoutout to Bernthal’s work. His coach shorts, ‘80s mustache and super-specific dialect are pure joy.
  • The final moment of the film.

Based on the true story that will inspire the world, Warner Bros. Pictures’ 'King Richard' follows the journey of Richard Williams, an undeterred father instrumental in raising two of the most extraordinarily gifted athletes of all time, who will end up changing the sport of tennis forever. Two-time Oscar nominee Will Smith ('Ali,' 'The Pursuit of Happyness,' 'Bad Boys for Life') stars as Richard, under the direction of Reinaldo Marcus Green ('Monsters and Men').

Driven by a clear vision of their future and using unconventional methods, Richard has a plan that will take Venus and Serena Williams from the streets of Compton, California to the global stage as legendary icons. The profoundly moving film shows the power of family, perseverance and unwavering belief as a means to achieve the impossible and impact the world.

Aunjanue Ellis (“If Beale Street Could Talk,” TV’s 'Quantico') plays the girls’ mom, Oracene “Brandi” Williams, Saniyya Sidney (“Hidden Figures,” “Fences”) stars as Venus Williams, Demi Singleton (TV’s “Godfather of Harlem”) stars as Serena Williams, with Tony Goldwyn (the 'Divergent' series, TV’s 'Scandal') as coach Paul Cohen and Jon Bernthal (upcoming 'The Many Saints of Newark,' 'Ford v Ferrari') as coach Rick Macci. The ensemble also includes Andy Bean ('IT Chapter Two'), Kevin Dunn (the 'Transformers' films, HBO’s 'Veep') and Craig Tate ('Greyhound').

Green directed 'King Richard' from a screenplay written by Zach Baylin. The producers were Tim White and Trevor White under their Star Thrower Entertainment banner, and Will Smith under his Westbrook banner. Isha Price, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith, Adam Merims, Lynn Harris, Allan Mandelbaum, Jon Mone and Peter Dodd served as the executive producers.

The behind-the-scenes creative team includes Oscar-winning director of photography Robert Elswit ('There Will Be Blood'), production designers Wynn Thomas ('Da 5 Bloods,' 'Hidden Figures') and William Arnold ('The Hate U Give'), Oscar-nominated editor Pamela Martin ('The Fighter'), and two-time Oscar-nominated costume designer Sharen Davis ('Dreamgirls,' 'Ray'). The music is by Oscar-nominated composer Kris Bowers ('Space Jam: A New Legacy,' 'A Concerto is a Conversation').

'King Richard' is slated for U.S. release on November 19, 2021 in theaters and on HBO Max via the Ad-Free plan; it will be available on HBO Max for 31 days from theatrical release.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work here, on FreshFiction.tv and on RottenTomatoes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.