Posts Tagged ‘Tennis’

King Richard (2021)

Dir.: Reinaldo Marcus Green; Cast: Will smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, John Bernthal, Tony Goldwyn; USA 2021, 138min.

The success story of mammoth tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams was already mapped out well before they hit a single ball, according to this extensive biopic whose focus is their father and tennis coach Richard Williams (a game by Will Smith).

Green and his writer Zach Baylin are keen to play on the sunny side of the former security guard’s character avoiding the more troubled aspects of a man who suffered from delusions of grandeur and narcissism.

We meet the Williams family in the seedy side of Compton, LA, were Richard and Oracene Williams (Ellis) are raising their five daughters, among them Venus (Sidney) and Serena (Singleton) who are coached by their father on the run-down tennis courts of the disadvantaged neighbourhood where a gang of youths give Richard a good kicking until he loses his temper and nearly shoots one of his attackers who is mowed down in front of him by bullets from a passing car.

At home Richard is a domestic tyrant with a work ethic high on his agenda. But he sometimes overdoes it, making the kids watch Cinderalla twice on TV to drill them on the virtues of humbleness. Richard is not a good advert for this particular style of parenting as he always knows best, even arguing with coach Cohen (Goldwyn), who teaches Venus for free.

Finally, Richard takes the whole family to the Florida training centre of coach Rick Macci (Bernthal), where there is a disagreement over how soon his daughters should play competitive matches before their mid-teens. Richard argues that the girls should have a ‘normal’ childhood, and just train hard. In the end, he gives in after Oracene takes Venus’ side. She will make her pro debut at the age of fourteen, falling to the World Number One player Sanchez-Vicario in three sets, after leading for a long time.

Richard struts around in tennis gear most of the time even though he has never played himself. Much time is spent on negotiations between the various companies wanting to sign Venus up for multi-million deals, with her father holding out for a better offer, infuriating Macci and well as his wife. Oracene finally reads Richard the riot act and it becomes clear how much the family relied on her contribution, even though Richard goes on hugging the limelight, turning the girls’ success story into his own triumph even when proved wrong.

DoP Robert Elswit’s images are on the conventional side, as befits a traditional bio-pic. King Richard is a star vehicle for Smith, who turns on the charm and totally  convinces as the prophet who makes things up as he goes along. The serious side of the story is hardly touched upon: William’s dealings with the Klu-Klux Klan is the elephant in the room. Overall, King Richard is overdone with a botched ending that leaves the characters of Oracene as well as Venus and Serena on the touchline, and worst of all, seem to believe in its message, that Father knows best. AS


John McEnroe: In the realm of Perfection (2018) ***

Dir: Julien Faraut | US Doc 95′

In the Realm of Perfection showcases tennis star John McEnroe at his very best – or worst – as some may say. Arguably, the enfant terrible of the tennis circuit was also one of the world’s finest and most charismatic players, his coiled force and balletic movements captured in fluid slow motion by specialist DoP Gil de Kermadec in Julien Faraut’s entertaining documentary.

John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, was shot on 16mm during the French Open at Roland-Garros in the early 1980s when de Kermadec had determined that champions played in a different way when under pressure (in competitions) than when simply knocking a ball about during practice sessions. Using early 1980s computer animation he explores the intricacies of McEnroe’s techniques and particularly his unpredictable serve and killer backhand. The film considers the power and intensity of McEnroe’s physical prowess and dexterity combined with his highly-tuned reflexes and skilful strategies for outwitting his opponent. All this is scored to the music of Sonic Youth’s “The Sprawl” and narrated by Mathieu Amalric.

For those who were positively invigorated by the American athlete’s feisty temperament his puerile petulance and childish outbursts, this film is a must. Clearly from early childhood, McEnroe’s personality was founded on an egocentricity so keen that he was unable to see anything from any perspective other than his own. This coupled with a sheer disdain for the professional opinion of the linesman, umpire and other employees makes for hilarious often incredulous viewing. “You must be kidding” was one of his stock expressions.

Cleverly, Faraut gives us only once chance to watch the footage, leaving the ball firmly in McEnroe’s court and leaving the jury out, creating an onscreen tension which builds gradually in the film’s mesmerising final sequences when we watch McEnroe pitting his wits against Ivan Lendl in the 1984 men’s final at the French Open.  Force of nature and force to be reckoned with, McEnroe was certainly one of the powerhouses of international tennis. MT




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