Finally, a sports movie that’s actually about sport.
Invariably, football, rugby, Olympian and yes, tennis movies, including Battle of the Sexes, use their competitive backdrop to tell a larger story. Whether it be overcoming adversity, hardship and/or inner demons, the focus on the game can be minimal, save this latest in a long line of championship biopics.
Chronicling Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason – Borg’s spitting image) and John McEnroe’s (Shia LaBeouf) obsession with the game and each other, Borg vs McEnroe is set amidst the first of their long-famous showdowns at Wimbledon; that particular tournament, along with its on-screen depiction, a match for some of the best out there.
With the leads having evidently trained for their roles and some breathtaking rallies, both tennis and film fans will appreciate the painstaking, patient recreation of the final and several other confrontations. The feature, gracefully, both casually familiarises the less-accustomed to the conduct of the form and for considered dramatic purposes at times assumes a level of knowledge that forgoes the exposition dumps you might otherwise expect, save an awkward though not unnecessary explanation of how a tie-break works.
John McEnroe is ideally cast as Shia LaBeouf (sic), the talented and avowedly unrestrained public figure in both cases demonstrably through this story evincing the power and consequence of an uncommon temperament. Gudnason, conversely, ably underlines the significance of Borg’s cool as ice persona, delving deeply into the icon’s own gruelling road to stardom in a contemplative, illustrative manner regretfully never afforded to his on screen counterpart.
Featuring one of LaBeouf’s best performances, one sequence hints broadly at the not dissimilar characterisations of the two and the implications for both players’ game – the focus on the dynamic between the competitors however ultimately being shelved for a stronger examination of the Swedish juggernaut than that which made their pairing so remarkable.
With Stellan Skarsgard too making some fleeting, reliably compelling appearances as Borg’s mentor, Borg vs McEnroe is that special flick that can appeal to both film and sports alike.
Borg vs McEnroe is in cinemas now