Borg/McEnroe – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Janus Metz
Writer: Ronnie Sandahl
Stars: Stellan Skarsgård, Shia LaBeouf, Sverrir Gudnason
In 1976 Bjorn Borg won, at the age of twenty, Wimbledon for the first time. He was to repeat this triumph in each of the following three years. Then in 1980, there emerged from the United States John McEnroe, almost three years younger than Borg and prodigiously gifted. In this recreation of the run up to their historic encounter in the Wimbledon final of 1980, the pressure was on Borg as no one had ever then won the Wimbledon men’s championship five years in succession.
These two very different young men, in some ways so very similar in many others, are played by Sverrir Gudnason (Borg) and Shia LaBoeuf (McEnroe). The casting is first rate as each of them physically resemble their characters when they were at the height of their tennis prowess thirty seven years ago. Throughout his career McEnroe had an ambitious and supportive father. Borg did not. However there came into Borg’s life in his formative years a former Swedish champion tennis player Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgård). He became Borg’s mentor in his determination to be the no. 1 tennis player in the world.
The film concentrates on the lead up to the 1980 final. It reveals the explosive personalities of each young man and how they had come to control their mental failings which diminished their ability to win. What the film exemplifies is the mental single-mindedness that is essential to succeed at the top of tennis and probably in all other solitary sports. As the 1980 final is the pinnacle of the film in order to recreate its nail-biting changes in fortune, the fluctuating score is used brilliantly to expose the intensity of the pressure which each of them had to be bear at different times. It makes for an edge of your seat encounter.
The acting of Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBoeuf, as they recreate the final, one forgets entirely that they are re-enacting events which took place thirty seven years ago. Stellan Skarsgård is magnificent as the wise counsel, father figure and friend to Borg. It is an immense partnership between a young man and an older one but it inevitably has its strains. What adds to the depth of the overall story is the re-creation, with the use of two young teenage young actors, for the formative years of both Borg and McEnroe. These sequences show that both young men were going to follow their own paths. The customs and conventions of society were not going to contain either of them. Their respective single mindedness is awesome.
This re-enactment of an extraordinary tennis match 37 years ago makes for fascinating watching. However both Borg and McEnroe should applaud the work of Metz in his direction of the film and equally that of Ronnie Sandhal who wrote the script. It is an exceedingly male movie and as it relates to real events the Bechdel test is not presumably strictly relevant. Certainly the female roles are minor throughout. The cinematography under the direction of Niels Thastum, particularly the length of time a ball remains in the air having been thrown by the server, adds greatly to the tension of this epic tennis match. This is a sporting film of genuine style.