Director Janus Metz has the unenviable task of making tennis sexy in this retelling of the 1980s rivalry between Björn Borg (Gudnason) and John McEnroe (LaBeouf). While the story of two completely juxtaposed personalities clashing at the very top of their game is an intriguing one, a film whose sole purpose is to lead up to a tennis match could easily be boring for fans and non-fans alike.
Thankfully, Metz mostly avoids tediousness by focusing on Borg and McEnroe’s journey to the Wimbledon final, through flashbacks to their surprisingly similar childhoods. Stellan Skarsgård gives a subtle and understated performance as Lennart Bergelin, the coach tasked with turning a young, volatile Borg into a world champion. With Borg always seen as the calm and collected one of the two, it’s interesting to learn he had a lot more in common with McEnroe than first thought.
Gudnason and LaBeouf are pitch perfect, with LaBeouf channelling an intense energy as the volatile and emotional McEnroe, going from enraged to inconsolable in a split second. Despite Metz focusing slightly more on Borg’s story (this is a Swedish-produced film, after all), it’s McEnroe’s obsession with Borg and his portrayal in the international media that provides the most interest here. Labelled a brat and unsportsmanlike, LaBeouf paints McEnroe as actually being incredibly naïve and fragile.
The main issue with Borg vs McEnroe, however, is that a lot of people already know the ending, and in all honesty, it’s hard to stay gripped for over an hour and a half. Perfect performances aside, the fact that the two rivals share very little screen time does cause fundamental issues.
While the rivalry between the two will go down in sporting history, the fireworks are sadly lacking in this big-screen version despite Gudnason and LaBeouf giving it their all.
CAST: Stellan Skarsgård, Shia LaBeouf, Sverrir Gudnason
DIRECTOR: Janus Metz
WRITER: Ronnie Sandahl
SYNOPSIS: The story of the 1980s tennis rivalry between the placid Björn Borg and the volatile John McEnroe.