Borg vs McEnroe

 

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A famous tennis match and the events leading up to it.

 
Borg vs McEnroe

Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LeBeouf

 

Suddenly it's tennis season at the cinema with Battle of the Sexes portraying the 1973 match between Billie-Jean King and Bobby Riggs coming up shortly but beaten to the draw by this film with its self-explanatory title made by director Janus Metz. The potential audience for this film clearly divides into two: on the one hand, those who love tennis and who will readily complain if they regard the portrayal of the sport or of the players concerned as lacking in authenticity and, on the other, those whose lack of knowledge about tennis means that they have to be won over if they are to enjoy this sporting tale in the cinema. I should declare at once that I belong to the second category.

 

Enjoy it I genuinely did - up to a point at least. At the outset it is explained to the uninitiated that the film’s focal point will be the Wimbledon Final of 1980 when the American John McEnroe (Shia LeBeouf) was a potential first-time winner up against Sweden's Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) hoping for his fifth consecutive win. But, once that has been stated, actual tennis matches feature only very briefly until we reach the Final itself which provides the film's extended climax. Up to that point Ronnie Sandahl's screenplay concentrates on the contrasted figures of the gentlemanly Borg and the rebel McEnroe. The latter's famed tantrums would encourage the press to treat him as the bad boy of tennis, but LeBeouf makes the most of his being the more showy role and some viewers today might want to support McEnroe more than Borg.

 

Initially the film seems to play on the contrast so as to invite the audience to choose sides (an echo here of being asked to invest in one or other of the rival drivers in Ron Howard's 2013 film Rush). However, as the film goes on, it comes to seem that the two men are not so much opposites as had first appeared: if McEnroe is full of surface eruptions, Borg buries his feelings by hiding his tensions beneath an apparently unemotional surface as recommended by his coach (Stellan Skarsgård). Although Gudnason's able performance has to yield the limelight to LaBeouf, the film itself spends much more time on Borg with flashbacks and intercuts taking us back to his childhood and his teenage years. These episodes, arbitrarily inserted at intervals, tend to interrupt the momentum of the build-up to the climax at Wimbledon and that is the weak point here. Ultimately the film is one which leaves it to the audience to take their own line on the story told but, nevertheless, if the shaping of the material leaves something to be desired, as a whole Borg vs McEnroe comes across as a competent piece of work.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LeBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård, Tuva Novotny, David Bamber, Björn Granath, Robert Emms, Jane Perry, Leo Borg.

 

Dir Janus Metz, Pro Jon Nohrstedt and Fredrik Wikström, Screenplay Ronnie Sandahl, Ph Niels Thastum, Pro Des Linda Norqvist, Ed Per K. Kirkegaard and Per Sandholt, Music Vladislav Delay, Jon Ekstrand, Carl-Johan Sevedag and Jonas Struck, Costumes Kicki Ilander.

 

SF Studios Production AB/Danish Film Institute/Film i Väst/Nordisk Film- Curzon Artificial Eye.
108 mins. Sweden/Denmark/Finland 2017. Rel: 22 September 2017. Cert. 15.