Borg vs McEnroe
- Katherine McLaughlin
- 18 September 2017
Spot-on performances from Shia LaBeouf and Sverrir Gudnason power this story of a classic sporting rivalry
Shia LaBeouf is perfectly cast as the bad boy of tennis John McEnroe in Danish director Janus Metz's reconstruction of the electrifying 1980 Wimbledon final – McEnroe's first – which saw the hot-tempered American face number one seed Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason). Sporting sensation Borg was looking to claim his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title, while his rising star opponent had bested him several times already; the match would go down in history.
It's a shame LaBeouf doesn't get to have much fun with the role, considering the committed performance he serves up. He nails the bubbling rage and court-side outbursts and, in the quieter scenes where McEnroe is seen drawing up a shrewd plan to win the tournament, he teems with the determination and hunger of a young man vying to be the best.
Metz delves deep into Borg's personal life and upbringing to shade in the psyche of a man nicknamed 'the Iceberg' by the British media, due to his cool conduct on court. Gudnason's likeness to Borg is as spot-on as his portrayal of a world-weary figure, struggling with the constant barrage of public and press attention. McEnroe's side of the story is merely skimmed, with a rushed night out on the town summing up his social life, but the film draws interesting parallels between the players' psychology and illustrates their mutual respect.
Stellan Skarsgård takes on the role of Lennart Bergelin, the man who saw potential in a young Borg, who had a serious temper in his early days. As Borg's trainer, Bergelin took on a father-figure role and Skarsgård injects a convincing blend of concern and authority into his performance.
Flashbacks to pushy parents in the case of McEnroe, and unsupportive ones with Borg are relied on a bit too heavily, as are the usual sports movie clichés, but the match itself is suspenseful and exhilarating to watch, despite knowing the outcome. Metz splendidly captures the mood of the crowd, who went from booing McEnroe as he entered, to roaring applause in recognition of his sportsmanlike behaviour.
General release from Fri 22 Sep.