As Richard Williams, father and, until they were at major competition level, manager of the the two greatest female tennis players of all time, Venus, and Serna Williams, Will Smith gives an outstanding performance, certainly his best since the “The Pursuit of Happyness” (sic) back in 2006. Being from Compton, the odds were massively against the Williams family, but Smith actually makes you believe in Richard’s faith that both of his little girls will, one day, win Wimbledon
Working from Zach Baylin’s smooth around the edges – and Williams sisters approved – original screenplay director Reinaldo Marcus Green delivers an entertaining, if unimaginative movie that has one jewel in its crown and that jewel is Aunjanue Ellis who plays Brandy, the matriarch of the Williams Family. A tennis player, like Richard, she has her own part in the girls exhaustive training, and she is the rock that the family is built. The role is a bit of a cliche, but Ellis invests it with such power, love, and grace that you never doubt her character. And she has a few wonderful heart-to-heart moments with Smith. Slowly but surely, she walks away with the acting honors. Kudos also to Jon Bernthal who plays the sisters second (Tony Goldwyn plays their first) professional coach, Florida-based Rick Macci. A real chameleon, Bernthal immerses himself in every role, and he is marvelous in this one, barely stifling Macci’s exasperation at Richard’s outrageous demands.
For me, there were two major faults in the movie. The first one is that the girls themselves make very little impression in their own story. The script, direction and acting are all a little responsible for this. The second happens about thirty minutes into the movie. Every evening, Richard takes the girls out for practice in the tennis courts of Compton and he is given a pretty tough time by the boys in the hood to the point of being roughed-up. One night, when he is driving alone, and after a particularly vicious altercation, he sees some of his tormentors hanging around outside a neighborhood store. He takes a gun out of his glove compartment and heads towards them. To what end you may ask? Well, you never get to find out because just then, there is a drive-by shooting and Richard rushes back to his car and takes off just as the police sirens are approaching. And that is the end of that. The episode is never mentioned again. Something left on the editing room floor? Some pages torn from Baylin’s script? It just makes you wonder what other dark alleys were left unexplored in this movie.