This film opens April 13th at the Digital Gym cinemas.
In the annals of professional sports rivalries, one of the most famous in tennis was the perceived conflict between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. Both athletes had completely contrasting personalities and approaches to the game, adding an extra level of dramatics to their competitions on the court. The new film Borg vs McEnroe details these two players, noting the differences and yet drawing significant similarities and parallels between them.
Set during the 1980 Wimbledon championship, Swedish player Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) is the number one ranked player in the world. While putting on a cold and emotionless face to the public, he struggles with the pressure put on him to win his fifth straight title in a row. Hot on his heels is the second ranked pro in the tournament, American hothead John McEroe (Shia LaBeouf), as well known for his emotional outbursts and tirades during matches as for his play.
The emphasis here is on Borg, although viewers get flashbacks of both personalities as children and the difficulties they both faced. Frankly, that suited this reviewer just fine, as he knew less about the Swede to begin with. It follows Borg as a child and teenager (the latter role is played by the athlete’s own son, Leo Borg), shaped by trainer Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgard). As one might imagine, the young Borg wasn’t all that different from his rival, coming across as a lonely, frustrated and angry individual lashing out at those he believes are treating him unfairly. In a sense, McEnroe almost comes across as the younger version of Borg.
Both of the leads are engaging in their roles, with Gudnason forced to internalize all of the pressure and stress present in his life, that ultimately bubbles to the surface in the form of some strange eccentricities (the player insists that everything, from his ride to his hotel room remain exactly identical from tournament to tournament). LaBeouf is also solid as McEnroe, showing some nuance in displaying the real life figure’s incredible passion for the game… that rather unfortunately, often boils over in public during matches.
Of course, the movie isn’t without a few minor flaws. Due to the fact that it is based on real events, this can’t be helped, but the leads rarely interact with each other. They keep at a distance for the majority of the running time, simply watching one another on television. The championship captures the tension of the match, although it ultimately doesn’t amount to much more than an important game. Again, this isn’t the movie’s fault, but events can’t take on the same kind of drama as in a film like Rush, where the drivers are frequently put in each other’s company and have their lives threatened at every sharp curve. The movie also leaves a few questions open about Borg’s relationship with his parents, which isn’t fleshed out in as much detail as expected.
Regardless, this is still a solid biopic and character study of one of the greatest and most secretive personalities in the game of tennis. It certainly gives some insight into the mind of professional athletes and what drives them all to be the best, no matter how different their approaches to the game might be. Those with an interest in tennis or sports biographies will more than likely enjoy the internal and external personal drama depicted in Borg vs McEnroe.