Borg vs McEnroe (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
A pleasant surprise. Borg vs McEnroe is terrific and riveting, with a masterful recreation of the legendary tennis match from the 1980 Wimbledon Final.
Sverrir Gudnason as Borg and Shia LaBeouf as McEnroe are excellent here, with both actors embodying their real-life namesakes believably.
More than just a sports drama, the film has surprising depth and emotional storytelling that really amplifies the stakes and offers great insight into the significance of their Wimbledon match.
You don't have to have an understanding or appreciation of tennis to enjoy the film, however, if you just cannot drum up any interest in tennis at all, you may not find much to like here.
Some have criticized the film for the depiction of Borg and McEnroe as little more than just psychological profiles and caricatured representations. (Also: not my view, but it is out there.)
Maybe you are anti-sports? Like in all aspects in life? I dunno, I'm reaching here.
Riveting, insightful, and surprisingly moving, Borg vs McEnroe documents the legendary rivalry and eventual passing of the torch between two tennis icons: Sweden’s beloved Björn Borg and John McEnroe, the United States’ enfant terrible of American tennis.
The movie, directed by Janus Metz, builds to the epic 1980 Wimbledon final, which saw Borg and McEnroe engage what stood for nearly three decades as the greatest tennis match of all time.
Taking nearly four hours, the match saw all the drama and intensity one could want from a competitive event. At one point, with McEnroe teetering in the fourth set and Borg ahead two sets to one, he failed to put McEnroe away on seven match points. This allowed McEnroe to deliver an incredible rally, eventually winning a legendary fourth set, forcing a fifth and final tilt that would ultimately decide the championship.
You don’t have to understand tennis to become enamored with Borg vs McEnroe. Metz has created a film with two main parts – the build-up and the match.
In the film’s first half, we focus largely on Borg (Sverrir Gudnason), and his meteoric rise to the pinnacle of international tennis. With his rock star looks and long and lean physique, he stood apart from the competition. He trained differently than his peers, was kind and considerate in interviews, and as he won tournament after tournament and had four consecutive Wimbledon championships on his trophy case, heading into this 1980 match with McEnroe, he was widely regarded as Sweden’s greatest athlete.
McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) was viewed as immature, childish, a bad apple. His rants and verbal abuse of line judges and umpires was unparalleled in the sport and people rooted for him to lose. Like most heels, his talent was too strong to deny, which made him almost more despised. It was a role he would eventually relish and embrace.
Written by Ronnie Sandahl, Borg vs McEnroe shows us that for the camera-ready Borg and the stomped-foot temperament of McEnroe, the two men were not all that much different away from the public eye. Borg’s fiancé Mariana (Tuva Novotny) struggles with Borg’s mood swings and his struggles with depression, self-esteem, and his celebrity status. He carries forth long-simmering frustrations with his coach Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgård), originating from his youthful beginnings from age 9 (portrayed by Borg’s real life son, Leo), all the way through his arrival on the professional scene at age 17 (Marcus Mossberg).
Gudnason and LaBeouf are a terrific tandem together and apart. LaBeouf nails McEnroe’s temper tantrums, simmering rage, and a true foil. Borg sees McEnroe as an avalanche he can only hold off for so long, and though their styles are different, a mutual respect and eventual friendship develops between the two in the years which followed this match.
We have more Borg than McEnroe here, and the film gives us a portrait of a star athlete not at all comfortable with his increased attention. The strain did not affect his ability to deliver on the grand stage, though when we get to the Wimbledon final sequence of the film, we recognize, as he does, that his run may be coming to an end.
The second half of the film is a master class in editing, as the Borg/McEnroe final is recreated in breathtaking fashion. The work of editors Per Sandholt and Per K. Kirkegaard never overwhelms, though it has every opportunity to do so. Using Gudnason and LaBeouf, as well as subtle, seamless visual effects work, tennis stand-ins, and archival footage, it all feels real. Nothing can replace the actual event, but even knowing the result going into the film, I was still mesmerized and caught up in the tension and excitement playing out before me.
Borg vs McEnroe earned 10 Guldbagge Award nominations (the “Swedish Oscars”) this past January, winning two for Visual Effects and Skarsgård as Best Supporting Actor. And while the movie may not quite gel in the transition between personal stories and tennis finale, we have a great sense of history provided to us in watching the iconic matchup between “The IceBorg and the SuperBrat” recreated one more time.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård, Tuva Novotny, Scott Arthur, Leo Borg, Marcus Mossman, Jackson Gann, Ian Blackman.
Director: Janus Metz
Written by: Ronnie Sandahl
Release Date: April 13, 2018