With a nostalgic 80s look, Borg Vs McEnroe is a film seemingly aimed more at most student’s parents than students themselves. However, if the bold title has you reaching for google instead of your wallet, don’t give up yet. From the perspective of someone whose parents hadn’t even met when the two tennis giants went toe to toe at Wimbledon in 1980, this film still had a lot to offer, and the dramatic tension of the final act is certainly given a well needed boost if you genuinely have no idea who wins.
Björn Borg is an emotionless Swedish machine, a four time Wimbledon champion aiming for a record breaking fifth title. His opponent, the American John McEnroe, is the underdog hated by the crowd for his famous outbursts of rage. What ought to follow is a few good training montages set to 80s hits and a boring clash of the titans style boss fight. Instead, having lured his audience in, director Janus Metz takes a sharp left into interesting territory.
Even the most ardently sport hating viewers will enjoy the first half. Beautifully framed and delicately coloured, the players’ fear is palpable as the final approaches. Self-doubt, ambition and failure are well explored in fascinating glimpses into childhood. Stellan Skarsgård as Borg’s coach is particularly excellent, their relationship as he helps Borg grow as a person and a player brings the most depth to the film, while Shia LeBeouf’s intensity as the explosive John McEnroe gives the whole saga real heart. Inevitably, balls get dropped along the way.
Psychological depth comes at the expense of a satisfying conclusion, with so much time dedicated to Borg and his coach that all his other relationships, including the titular rivalry, get pushed aside. As a result the final act really suffers, with cheesy resolutions to plot arcs that just weren’t there feeling undeserved. The script has to put in the extra legwork, heavy handedly reminding us how to feel, while lazy heart thumping sports music accompanies the Borg vs McEnroe final, an overlong slomo fest that doesn’t do justice to the real 4 hour match. Not your average sports film, Borg vs McEnroe has a pulse and is worth a watch for non-tennis people and original Borg fans alike, but fails to accomplish its overly ambitious remit.
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