Review by paul dunne
Borg McEnroe is a sports biopic that tells the story of two of Tennis’ greatest rivals, Björn Borg and John McEnroe. The film is built around their historic match in the 1980 Wimbledon Men’s singles final, but also around their lives and the media’s obsession with the event.
The narrative of the film follows both men in the lead up to, and the preliminary rounds of, the Wimbledon final. Archive footage and flashbacks starring the leads are intercut with the present-day timeline. The flashbacks of both men’s upbringings offset the narrative portrayed by the media. Initially we are offered McEnroe as the wild, immature, raw talent unfit for the gentleman’s sport, opposed by the ‘’machine-like’’, unemotional, unflinching Borg. However, the flashbacks reveal a young Borg reminiscent to current day McEnroe, and McEnroe’s immense desire to please parents who expect infinity.
The development of both leads is uneven. Early on it becomes apparent that Borg is the protagonist with McEnroe as his antagonist, this relationship serves the plot and characters well. Their rivalry is expertly crafted, moving from enemies to equals, and eventually finishing as friends in a believable way. The flashbacks illuminate Borg’s mentality and approach to tennis. Yet, to understand McEnroe’s motivations requires too much inference in my opinion, a flashback of McEnroe’s teenage years would have completed the picture of his psyche. Both Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf offer performances beyond impressions, channelling bravado and tenderness on command. I would have welcomed more scenes including both men, or at least more of LaBeouf. Stellan Skarsgård, as always, gives stellar support, noteworthy but never drawing attention away from the leads.
The tennis itself is well filmed and cut. We feel the force of each forehand and the infamously long final never dips into boredom. There is a clear representation in the contrasting styles of Borg’s and McEnroe’s tennis and personalities. Thankfully the sports side of this sports biopic is not forgotten.
The film delves into the sacrifice it takes to become the best, and the uglier side of the success both men earn. Leech-like sponsorship commitments, claustrophobic fame, strained relationships and isolation beset Borg and McEnroe alike. It is this shared experience and solidarity that leads to their surprise friendship that closes out the movie. Borg and McEnroe find each other in an airport and have an amiable conversation. However, the sound fades out and we are not privy to their interaction. This final scene ends, title cards and archive photos reveal the outcome of the rest of their careers and friendship. This ending feels a tad cheap and emphasises the film’s only problem: what we get is good but I wanted more. In an age of mediocre movies with forgettable characters and paint-by-number plots, Borg McEnroe is certainly better than expected but neither is it as good as it could have been.