Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2021

King Richard (2021)

© Warner Bros. Pictures, Westbrook Studios, Star Thrower Entertainment and Keepin’ It Reel

King Richard – Film Review

Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, Jon Bernthal

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Synopsis: Telling the true story of Richard Williams, who played an influential role in shaping the early tennis careers of his daughters Venus and Serena Williams…

Review: Whenever anyone talks about the greatest athletes of all time, there are two names whose places in that conversation are absolutely assured: Venus and Serena Williams. Here are two extraordinary women, with an incredible 30 Grand Slam wins between them, whose achievements across their glittering careers will have undoubtedly inspired countless generations of young girls to pick up tennis rackets and to follow in their footsteps. However, there is someone, that the Williams sisters have said that none of their success could have been possible without. That person, is their father, Richard Dove Williams Jr.

As the proud parents of Venus (Sidney) and Serena (Singleton), Richard (Smith) and his wife Brandy (Ellis) are committed to helping their daughters to one day become professional tennis players. With the strong emotional support of Brandi propelling Richard, Venus, and Serena in equal measure, Richard serves as their coach. Both Richard and Brandy work incredibly hard at their day jobs. Additionally, through many hours of training on the tennis court, he’s motivated by his ambition to help his daughters become professional tennis players. He’s a deeply driven and determined man, with a detailed and well-thought-out plan to ensure his daughters become two of the best tennis players to have ever played the game.

Given this is a story about two of the best players to have ever played the sport of tennis, it might seem odd to frame this story mainly from the perspective of their father. Yet, when you watch Will Smith’s performance as this father who will stop at nothing to help his daughters achieve their dreams, it pays incredible dividends as this is Smith’s best performance for quite some time. He’s a man who is fiercely protective of his family and is not afraid to stand up to anyone who is rude towards his daughters. Though while that may paint him as a kind and generous soul, this is not always the case. Richard has some very stubborn tendencies, and he will not be afraid to speak his mind during meetings. His stubbornness and unwillingness to change his methods and approach to how he conducts business threatens to ruin Venus’s and Serena’s careers before they have even begun.

While Smith’s performance is fully deserving of the plaudits, what must not be lost in the conversation is the performances of the women who are just as much at the center of this story as Richard. The most important of which is Aunjanue Ellis as Oracene “Brandy” Williams. While Richard is out there on the court, the part she plays to help Venus and Serena carries just as much importance. She lends the support that both her husband and her daughters need as they strive to make their dreams become reality. Though, she is absolutely not afraid to speak her mind when the situation calls for it and will take action into her own hands when she needs to. As the young Venus and Serena, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton both have very bright futures ahead of them. There’s a genuine sisterly bond between them. They recognise that, in a society where being who they are comes with hardship and obstacles from the off, success for one of them will go a long way towards propelling both of them onwards in their careers.

What could have been a very generic story about how the Williams sisters became the superstars that they are, is instead played as an emotional family drama and a tribute to the parents who helped shape them into becoming two of the greatest tennis stars have ever played the game. Green gives plenty of time for the family dynamic to flourish, as it is integral to help shape the story. This is expertly combined with immaculately directed tennis matches as we watch the Williams sisters begin on their path towards tennis superstardom. It serves as a reminder that for every superstar athlete, there are parents who sacrifice so much. They work tirelessly to help mold and shape their children so that one day, they can change the world and write their names into the history books forevermore. This is precisely what Venus and Serena Williams have done. They will be remembered, not only as players who changed the face of the sport of tennis forever, but also two of the best athletes to have ever lived.

What could have been your typical sports biopic is anything but. With an ace of a central performance from Will Smith, King Richard is an inspirational and uplifting family drama that will have you punching the air in delight.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

Ford V Ferrari (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox

Ford V Ferrari (Le Mans ’66) – Film Review

Cast: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Jon Bernthal, Tracy Letts, Caitriona Balfe, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone

Director: James Mangold

Synopsis: Telling the true story of how a team of engineers, employed by Ford, set out to build a car capable of usurping Ferrarri’s dominance at the 24 hour race at Le Mans in 1966…

Review: When certain sports events come around every once in a while, it seems like the whole world just stops and watches with interest. For instance, events like the Olympics, the Football World Cup or the Superbowl capture the hearts and minds of viewers all across the world. Meanwhile, events though they might be just as compelling to some, events like the 24 Hour race at Le Mans do not nearly have the same level of global coverage. However, this is certainly no barrier for director James Mangold to craft an utterly captivating spectacle of one particular year’s version of this sporting showdown.

With Ferrari consistently bettering Ford in the 24 Hours of Le Mans over a number of years, Ford head honcho Henry Ford II is determined to usurp Ferrari’s dominance. To achieve that end, he commissions engineer Carroll Shelby (Damon) to use whatever resources he needs to build a car that would have the capabilities and the endurance to not only survive the 24 hour race, but to pip Ferrari to the post. Believing him to be the best in the business, Shelby recruits the extremely talented driver, and uber intense petrol-head Ken Miles (Bale) to be Ford’s driver for the race. A decision that, due to Miles’s brash personality, causes friction in the higher echelons of the company.

And the award for looking menacing in a pair of shades goes to….

As was with the case with Ron Howard’s Rush, you most assuredly do not need to be the most devout follower of the 24 hour race at Le Mans, or indeed any particular racing event for that matter, to be completely invested in this story. Whilst Rush‘s focal point was the rivalry between two legendary F1 drivers, Ford v Ferrari‘s central premise is on the friendship between Damon’s Shelby and Bales’s Miles, and the build up to this hugely important race. It’s this friendship, and the high stakes that both of them are facing in the build up to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966, that drives the film forwards.

Given that their friendship is at the centre of the film, Matt Damon and Christian Bale are absolutely outstanding in their roles. Their friendship might not be the most seamless, but there’s a solid respect for one another as they both appreciate the role that the other plays in this team. You can have the best car in the world, but the perfect car is just one half of the equation. This is because without the best driver, you do not stand a chance of winning a race that requires a multitude of factors to ensure that your car comes out on top. Tracy Letts leads the way in an effective ensemble cast as the commanding Henry Ford II, closely followed by Jon Bernthal’s polished Ford Executive, who contrasts quite brilliantly opposite Josh Lucas’s Ford Executive, the latter of whom is considerably more slimy, and openly distrustful of Shelby’s methods.

Having dabbled in the world of superheroes, and more specifically ones with claws, for his last two films, James Mangold switches from the superhero gear to this one effortlessly. With some excellent cinematography, camerawork, and the brilliant work of the sound team, the audience is put very firmly in the driver’s seat, as if they were the ones at the wheel of these remarkable machines. Whether you couldn’t care less about cars, or if you’re the biggest petrol-head going, there’s an intensity to the racing scenes that make them extremely exhilarating to watch. However, the foot is not on the accelerate pedal the entire time. The screenplay balances these high octane, adrenaline-fuelled scenes with some more personal moments.

Through Mangold’s excellent steering, he makes the two and a half hours fly by, in a similar vein to how a super-fast car would whizz by the audience in a flash. Though the ending is a little bit rushed, there’s never any severely problematic pacing issues that could have caused the entire film to crash and burn. With a stirring, emotional score from Marco Beltrami, the film roars past that finishing line with flying colours.

Magnificently crafted racing scenes, combined with a fascinating story about two men and their respective search for greatness. Ladies and Gentlemen, please fasten your seat-belts, you’re in for an adrenaline-fuelled, enthralling ride.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Widows (2018)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Film4 Productions and Regency

Widows  – Film Review

Cast:  Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, Jon Bernthal, Liam Neeson

Director: Steve McQueen

Synopsis: After a bank heist goes horribly wrong leading to the deaths of all the crew, their widows step up to finish what their husbands started…

Review: When as a director, you make one of the most heart-wrenching but extremely impactful pieces of cinema to come out in this decade. A film that landed you the Best Picture Oscar no less, how do you follow that up? For Steve McQueen, following on from his success with the aforementioned 12 Years A Slave, the answer is simple. You team up with another recent Oscar winner and make another exhilarating, heart-pounding piece of cinema. Namely a heist film quite unlike anything the genre has concocted before.

After a team of criminals are caught up in a heist that gets all of them killed, their widows are left in a very desperate situation. Veronica Rawlings (Davis) is the widow of the leader of the crew, Harry (Neeson). Not long after her husband’s death, she receives a rather uncomfortable visit from crime boss Jamal Manning, (Brian Tyree Henry) the target of the botched heist. Demanding repayment of the stolen money, and given a rather tight window in order to do so, Veronica has the plans for what would have been her husband’s next job. Needing her own crew to pull it off, recruits the other widows who also lost their husbands in the same heist, for a new mission to score the money that their husbands stole. Conceptually, though this may sound like your average heist film, in execution, it is a very different beast.

The screenplay, co-written by McQueen and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn adds deep political subtext to this story that really gives the film a unique feel to it. Furthermore with such powerful women at the centre of this gripping story, in the era of the Me Too movement, it feels all the more powerful and relevant in modern times.  What McQueen and Flynn’s script does so excellently is give each woman involved in this daring heist a significant amount of development. Though they come from different backgrounds, each woman absolutely stands on her own two feet and all give excellent performances.

Leading the pack and fresh from her Oscar success, Viola Davis is once again superb in the role of Veronica. She is a woman who has been to hell and back again, both with events in her past and in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s demise. Yet her fiery spirit keeps her going through this turbulent time. Likewise for Alice (Debicki) and (Rodriguez), both of whom are also dealt with a torrid set of consequences in the wake of the heist that robbed them of their spouses. But with the resolute Veronica at the helm, there is no time to mope, they have some work to do.

Though the women have the spotlight absolutely deservedly on them, Daniel Kaluyya’s portrayal of Jamal’s brother, Jatamme is magnificent and absolutely terrifying in equal measure. A VERY different kind of role especially in comparison to his Oscar nominated performance in Get Out, but with every moment he has on screen, his cold demeanour and brutality is enough to send shivers down the spines of the audience. This is a man whose path you do not want to cross under any circumstances.

With the theme of powerful women front and centre, McQueen also brilliantly weaves political drama into the story. There is one moment in particular that really stands out in terms of how the scene is filmed. And by doing it this way, it really sends a startling message about modern day America and in particular modern American politics. It is another film released this year that feels very timely in terms of its themes, whilst also being not afraid to pull any punches, or to let the bullets fly.

A heist/thriller with a lot to say for itself, boosted an impeccable stellar ensemble cast and bold direction, another exhilarating addition to the filmography of Steve McQueen.