Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
King Richard at the Black Harvest Film Festival
Catch a special screening Nov. 17 at 7 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center, $12.

Good biopics are hard to come by. Most are hit or miss; it’s either Malcolm X or Jobs. But King Richard knocks it out of the park. Will Smith plays the titular Richard Williams, as he raises two future tennis champions: Venus and Serena. This is perhaps one of the best performances of Smith’s career with Aunjanue Ellis going toe-to-toe with him as the Williams matriarch. Here Smith gets to tap into his comedic timing in a way we haven’t seen in years and delivers monologue after gut-wrenching monologue that just knocks the wind out of you. It’s a testament to his acting chops, which have sometimes been neglected in his later career choices. The film’s pacing is near-perfect, avoiding another classic biopic mistake of showing too much or too little by capturing the early years of Venus and Serena’s career. We follow the girls from prodigies practicing on a rundown tennis court in Compton, California to Venus’s stirring 1994 loss to 14-time grand-slam winner Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario, depicting the racism and classism they faced along the way in a world unkind to young Black girls. The camerawork stands out here too, with shot sequences throughout the matches following game play in a way that makes it feel like watching a live game. And the film doesn’t gloss over the flaws in its eponymous protagonist, giving him a realistic but still root-worthy story arc. It’s a welcome addition to the biopic genre, buoyed by a career-defining performance from Will Smith. PG-13, 92 min.

In theaters and streaming on HBO Max November 19.