Almost as big a challenge as knocking off a four-time Wimbledon champion is actually centering an entire movie around a match where most probably already know the outcome. But that is exactly what director Janus Metz and screenwriter Ronnie Sandahl have done with Borg Vs. McEnroe, a recreation of the infamous 1980 Wimbledon men’s tennis final that pitted four-time victor Bjorn Borg against the current bad boy of the game John McEnroe.
Utilizing flashbacks to get their stories growing up, as well as all the bells and whistles surrounding the match itself, it could have seemed anti-climatic to get to the main event well over the hour mark, but thanks to eerily exact performances from a cool Sverrir Gudnason as Borg and especially Shia LaBeouf, a sometimes bad boy himself, as McEnroe we stay just engaged enough to care which way this thing is going to go. Now, tennis fan that I am, I actually knew the outcome but, as I say in my video review (watch above), Metz’s recreation of it is pretty thrilling cinema for tennis freaks who want to relive it, or in fact experience the 38-year-old duel for the first time. The director and his writer are very familiar with all of this having also made the 1996 documentary that also detailed every serve and volley. The challenge here was to find actors believable enough to pull it off, particularly the tennis. But with the crafty use of doubles, as in the recent Battle Of The Sexes depicting the legendary Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs court circus, it is about as authentic as you can get. Metz also knows how to build up suspense around an event in which the outcome is a given, but I won’t reveal the results in case you don’t know. Suffice to say, it went well into five sets and was considered the greatest tennis match ever played. There have been a couple since (Federer/Nadal in 2008 comes to mind) but this remains one for the ages.
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In the set up for it all we see the ultra-cool Borg really wasn’t that way growing up where he got kicked out of tennis competitions and was generally a Swedish hothead, that is until his coach Lennart (Stellan Skarsgaard) drilled the idea into his brain that he should keep the anger all locked inside until he really needs it on the court. Borg’s real son, Leo plays him as a child in a nice bit of successful stunt casting. Jackson Gann plays the young McEnroe who we learn never got the appreciation from his parents, despite much achievement early on. The emphasis on the flashbacks favors Borg, perhaps because the Danish director finds him more intriguing. Nevertheless, it is actually LaBeouf who eventually steals the acting honors and the movie, though both stars score significant points along the way. Production credits are top notch and the film should appeal to anyone sucked in by its title which pretty much explains it all. NEON releases it in limited theatres and On Demand Friday. The film was the opening night attraction at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.
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