Posted by Larry Gleeson
Last night the Will Smith-led, Warner Bros. Pictures, King Richard, had a Red Carpet Premiere at the historic Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., for the American Film Institute’s AFI FEST 2021 – elevating the best films in global cinema.
At 7:02 P.M. the house lights dimmed and an announcement for the audience to please take their seats came over the public address system. The anticipation was so thick, a butter knife was needed to slice through it. It wouldn’t be long now, I thought to myself as I took my seat up front and close.
King Richard had screened at the recent Telluride Film Festival and I had imagined it was a remake of a Shakespearean work. Now, I knew better. This was about Richard Williams, the unabashed father of the two greatest sisters and women tennis players to grace the game. Think Arthur Ashe with an uber-talented younger brother chomping at his heels.
American Film Institute President and CEO, Bob Gazzale was introduced. Gazzale spoke of the imperative of storytelling and the joy of witnessing it together then plugged the AFI Conservatory and the Cinematographer for King Richard, Robert Elswit, ASC, a graduate of the esteemed film school.
Without further adieu, Reinaldo Marcus Green, Director of King Richard, was introduced. Next came the cast led by Tony Goldwyn with the versatile Will Smith bringing up the rear. Smith is an entertainer through and through and never seems to be at a loss for words and this night was no exception.
The last two peeps to make their presence known, front and center, were the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena. I felt the energy as the audience seemed to come out of their seats, not levitating, just giving a standing ovation. The tone was set. It was game on!
With a run time of 144 minutes, King Richard seemed to reached it’s conclusion too quickly. That’s a tribute to how mesmerizing King Richard is. Numerous times the audience erupted with applause and approval as the Williams family overcame obstacle after obstacle. Will Smith portrayed Richard Williams with fortitude and a tenderness – qualities not always evident from Richard Williams’ public persona.
Richard Williams was often seen as brash, touting with a braggadociousness how his daughters were coming to dominate women’s tennis, the likes of which had never been seen before, would never be seen again, and there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. What he didn’t tell the public is he also wanted his daughters to have a real childhood and a meaningful adolescence and to be prepared to lead successful lives. And, above all, to always have fun!
Throughout King Richard, Richard Williams came across as a devoted husband, father, and coach delving into some of his formative life experiences growing up in a racist environment. Rearing his family in Compton, California, also had its challenges for Williams. But, Richard Williams had a plan – he wanted a better life for his family.
And, AFI Conservatory Alumnus, Cinematographer Robert Elswit’s work didn’t disappoint either. Utilizing natural lighting with some traditional lenses and frames for establishing shots juxtaposed with fast zoom lenses to capture action with tight framing and some extreme closeups of the Williams sisters, played by Sanitaya Sidney and Demi Singleton, generating some major pace with their ground strokes and capturing winning overhead smashes, Elswit created some riveting moments.
Editor Pamela Martin, Ace, made the shots and their complementary counterparts (returns) appear seamless with the utmost continuity. Non-diegetic sounds kept the film’s pace and helped match the film’s tone and the actors emotionality. Kris Bowers is credited with the music.
And, last but not least, Director Reinaldo Marcus Green, helming only his second feature film, steered King Richard to a beautiful conclusion culminating in Venus’s first professional matches and first tennis matches of any kind in three years. The excitement she (and Serena later) brought to the game of tennis encouraged an entire generation of young African-American girls that anything is possible if they are willing to put in the work.
King Richard served as the 2021 AFI FEST Closing Night Film – chock full of inspiration and hope. Ahhh…the power of film and the magic of AFI FEST – Hollywood. Talk about speaking truth to power.
Until next year, I’ll see you at the movies!