Sports stars of the 1970s and 1980s were proper characters that lived interesting and sensational lives. These days everything is too professional and sanitised. I’d take a film about the life of racing car hero James Hunt (Rush) any day of the week over a Lewis Hamilton biopic. Now it’s the turn of Tennis to get some big screen love in the form of the absorbing Borg vs McEnroe – a fascinating story about the rivalry and personal determinations of two of the greatest sportsmen to ever live.
The film drops us into a specific moment in time. Björn Borg (played superbly by Sverrir Gudnason) is the biggest tennis star in the world and is psyching himself up to challenge for an unprecedented fifth consecutive Wimbledon title in 1980. The only thing standing in his way is brash American bad-boy John McEnroe (a stunning Shia LaBeouf), a raw and blistering talent whose temper matches his undoubted quality on the court.
The film deliberately leaves out a lot of tennis action in the first two thirds of the movie, instead giving us glimpses of each man’s past and how they reached the Wimbledon final. We get crucial snapshots into their preparations, with more focus on Borg as the film comes primarily from his standpoint. Borg’s childhood is revisited as we understand the passion and drive that made him such a formidable force in world tennis. In a nice touch, Björn Borg’s actual son Leo Borg plays him as a young man and does a great job here.
Sverrir Gudnason is a revelation as Björn Borg and commands the screen every time. His complexities are bought to the forefront in a nuanced performance that is devoid of cliché to deliver a strong, fascinating and truthful look at a sporting icon. Shia LaBeouf is no stranger to headlines but sometimes people lose sight of the fact that he’s always been a terrific actor. His performance as John McEnroe is mesmerizing and he shares a wonderful chemistry with Gudnason that truly captures the essence and magic of the real rivalry between Borg and McEnroe. The supporting cast is also great too, with Stellan Skarsgård and Tuva Novotny handing in noteworthy turns that really strike a chord.
The masterstroke of leaving out most of the tennis action until the end means that the audience gets really psyched up for the finale. We get montages of the championships but nothing too long or involving. It saves all of the action for the Wimbledon final itself and it’s wonderful to witness. Director Janus Metz has done a magnificent job in orchestrating the highs and lows of a tennis match, with an authenticity and eye for detail that leaves you in awe. Throw in two outstanding lead performances and you have one of the best sports films ever made. Borg vs McEnroe is an unmissable ace of a film that captivates the soul.
Cast: Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård, Tuva Novotny, Leo Borg, Tom Datnow Director: Janus Metz Writer: Ronnie Sandahl Released By: Curzon Artificial Eye Certificate: 15 Duration: 107 mins Release Date: 22nd January 2018