SF STUDIOS (2017)
Director: Janus Metz Pedersen
Starring: Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård, Tuva Novotny
July 5th 1980. Centre Court. Wimbledon, London.
The scene of one of the greatest matches in tennis history – or sports history – as reigning four-time champion Bjorn Borg faced off against his newest, toughest adversary, John McEnroe. Gunning for his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title, the match was a war of attrition as neither men gave an inch in their pursuit of glory. The match lived up to its billing and has only been rivalled once since.
Borg vs. McEnroe the movie isn’t quite as sensational, but it’s still worth a few sets.
On the eve of Wimbledon, Björn Borg (Gudnason) is beginning to feel the effects of the crushing pressure he has burdened himself with ahead of the potentially historic tournament – to himself, he’s the loneliest man on the planet. Refusing to believe that losing is eventually a reality, and with a superstar lifestyle in full swing, Borg isolates himself with his fiancée, Mariana (Novotny), and devoted trainer Lennart Bergelin (Skarsgård) to begin his careful and meticulous preparation (including various superstitions and rigorous racquet testing). From beginning as a tempestuous child prodigy to now, Borg has been laser focused on being the greatest, but now a new upstart with a bad attitude has arrived to claim his throne – John McEnroe (LaBeouf). Full of rage and raw talent, McEnroe has become the antihero of the game and the stage is set for the two to power to the finals for a battle of the ages. With every successful match, the pressure grows heavier on Borg and those around him as McEnroe casually plots his course to the final that will change both men and the game of tennis.
As a movie, Borg vs. McEnroe functions as a character study rather than a fully-fledged sporting recollection of the event itself. Focusing heavily on Borg, the movie shows us (briefly) his beginnings in the sport before jumping straight to his tournament mindset and the competition itself, whilst intersecting with footage of McEnroe competing or relaxing in his hotel at regular intervals. It doesn’t delve overly deep, however, but the performance of Gudnason is more than good enough to portray the necessary emotions that the movie didn’t have to do anymore visually. Both leads deliver knockout performances and neither can be faulted for their portrayals (though both the actual Borg and McEnroe have disputed several authenticities within the production) and LaBeouf once again displays his precocious talents. What Borg vs. McEnroe does highlight is that whilst the game was billed as the battle of opposites, in fact, both men were more alike than they believed – McEnroe being prone to angry outbursts whereas Borg simmered beneath the surface like a volcano waiting to erupt, as well as the thorough preparation both undertook in researching each other.
The final match itself is scintillatingly recreated and spans over twenty minutes of the movie. Thankfully, it isn’t shot like a standard tennis match and Pedersen utilises some great and inventive shots to bring the spectacle to life. Honestly, though, the drama of the event works much better if you don’t know the outcome – if you do know who wins, and you probably do, then it becomes merely a very good recreation of the duel. In terms of drama, it’s all there and since 1980 (in tennis), only the 2008 final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer (another classic with the Fed chasing his 6th consecutive title) matches it for sheer emotion, excitement, tension, sporting achievement and drama. The time period has been re-created well and visually the movie is appealing. The urgency of the soundtrack fluctuates depending on events but is mostly very good
Borg vs. McEnroe serves as a pleasing recreation of a sporting milestone, never hitting the heights of, say, Rush, but still acts as a very decent cinematic retelling. Whether it’s 100% accurate or not is up for debate, however, the movie is still fresh, engaging and occasionally thrilling - Gudnason and LaBeouf are sensational as tennis’ best rivals and greatest friends (as the great ending displays). Maybe not game, set and match, but Borg vs. McEnroe definitely reaches a solid match point.
December 2nd 2017