Will Smith's latest movie King Richard is a serious Academy Award contender and might just earn the actor his first Oscar, after sweeping the Telluride Film Festival.
Should he have gotten one for Ali? Maybe. Pursuit of Happiness, Seven Pounds, Concussion...? Arguably. Will Smith definitely had his share of Academy Award contenders, but none as convincing as his latest acting-masterclass: King Richard.
No, it is not a King Arthur spin-off, it is the story of Richard Williams, the father of Serena and Venus Williams. The father, who, against all odds, pushed his daughters to mega-stardom and sports immortality. Of course, Richard wasn't alone in this and had the support of his wife Oracene – who is portrayed by Aunjanue Ellis – but it is Will Smith's performance that is the highest in this array of peaks that director Reinaldo Marcus Green's King Richard is.
The delicate touch the director shows in approaching this tale is no surprise: He and his brother were also raised by a father that had their path to MLB-stardom all but mapped out. It didn't work out for Green, but I have a feeling he'll take directing Will Smith in his first Oscar role as a consolation prize. Why Will Smith excels here should come as no surprise: He built himself up based on his father's lessons, is a father to superstars in his own right, and has shown that exact emotional capacity in Pursuit of Happiness. His role in King Richards is, in a way, the culmination of all his experiences and sees him portray the Compton father to perfection, as he pushes his daughters to greatness on the courts of California – far removed from the shining lights of Hollywood or the glitzy beaches of Orange County. Unsurprisingly, director Green was also full of praise for his lead:
It was important for everybody to see him in a role [in which] he’s really grounded and very human. He takes on a very complex man with an amazing story and crazy journey. (...) We bonded over being fathers, and of course, Will, he’s from Philly—don’t be fooled by Hollywood. He’s got a past. He’s from the mean streets of Philadelphia. I think Will grew up with a very tough father figure. There were a lot of things that we were able to take from our own lives and apply to this story.
Anybody familiar with Richard Williams knows that the man is unique and anybody familiar with his daughters knows that Serena and Venus have strong opinions. The fact that all of them applaud the movie, speaks volumes – the fact that it wowed the audience at the Telluride FIlm Festival, does the rest of the talking.
King Richards is an as strong Academy Award contender as we'll get this year, and it would be Will Smith's first Oscar. What's more, Will produced this movie and stands a shot at collecting Academy gold as both an actor and a producer, which would make him the first black man to do so. Seeing how King Richards is an odds-defying tale of black history, it would be a fitting crowning achievement for a story that already resulted in so many.
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