Starring: Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBoeuf, Stellan Skarsgård
Director: Janus Metz
Running Time: 107 mins
Borg vs. McEnroe is a Swedish film about the rivalry between tennis heavyweight Björn Borg and young star John McEnroe, which came to a head at the Wimbledon final in 1980.
For a film that starts off in rather dry fashion, Borg vs. McEnroe ends up as an impressively engrossing and memorable watch, bringing ultimately engaging personal drama and gripping sporting tension into a striking marriage. It’s not all plain sailing from start to finish, and despite spirited performances across the board, this film can feel a little underwhelming at times, but come the finish, there’s more than enough excitement and intrigue to impress regardless.
Sports movies are always difficult to get right, particularly if the focus of the story is on the result of a tournament. In the end, the player/team either wins or loses, a premise that never really leaves much room for unpredictability and ingenuity.
However, while there is an element of intrigue on the sporting side of things here, Borg vs. McEnroe is first and foremost a personal drama, looking at the psyches of its two leads as they navigate the most important tournament in each of their careers so far, encountering major emotional obstacles with roots dating all the way back to their childhoods.
Now, as a more emotionally-driven personal drama, Borg vs. McEnroe is undoubtedly intimate and insightful in its look not only at the lives of two of tennis’ greatest legends, but also the realities of being a major sporting star, however it never really quite nails that drama down to a fully convincing or enthralling degree, instead missing the mark when trying to delve deep into their minds with a look at how their pasts lead all the way up to where they are now.
Proving frustrating as its switches back and forth between the present and childhood, Borg vs. McEnroe never gets into a good swing of things for the first two-thirds of its story, struggling to really tie together the events of the past with the characters of the present, and leaving you feeling lost on a number of occasions as to just why the two men act the way they do.
That confusion is clear evidence of the film’s narrative weaknesses, and it proves a major stumbling block in the movie’s attempts to engross you in its intimate emotional drama. As interesting as things prove at times, the first two-thirds of the film are far from the powerful work they aim to be.
Saying that, however, the story really picks up in the final third, when the narrative streamlines to the present, the drama picks up and a little bit of sporting tension is brought into the mix.
Firstly, while the connection between past and present is rather muddled through the first two-thirds, the final act brings those two eras together in far simpler fashion, giving you a clear demonstration of what events in the past have contributed directly to why either Borg or McEnroe is the way they are today – a vast improvement on what comes in the hour or so before.
Secondly, the drama is bolstered by some excellent sporting action which – even if you know the result – is brought to life in thoroughly engaging fashion, with dynamic and striking directing that makes the on-court action really pop on screen, a powerful and dramatic musical score, and two lead performances which are entirely game for the high stakes of the final game between the two rivals.
So, while the movie starts off in rather dry, underwhelming fashion, it ends up as quite an impressive spectacle, with memorable, exciting sporting drama mixing well with powerful emotion in the final act. That doesn’t excuse the struggles of the earlier acts by any means, but things do at least come good in the end and leave you feeling thoroughly satisfied with what is a perfectly solid sports biography, and that’s why I’m giving Borg vs. McEnroe a 7.5 overall.