Borg vs McEnroe – 4 out of 5
I said in my last review (Battle of the Sexes, which you can read here) that I made a movie day of tennis films. Why? No real reason beyond I watched Battle of the Sexes and decided to check out the other 2017 tennis film; Borg vs McEnroe. While watching two sports dramas back-to-back still hasn’t made me a sports guy, I definitely dug this film.
|My favorite yoga position after I do anything physical for an entire minute.|
|This Sunday at Wimbledon!|
In 1980, Björn Borg (Sverrir Gundnason) is the greatest tennis player in the world as he has won the Wimbledon championship four times in a row. He could potentially win a fifth time but a new and colorful player emerges on the scene; John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf). McEnroe makes a name for himself due to his temper tantrums on the court where he yells and swears at the audience and officials and has even destroyed a racquet or two. Now the two are meeting at Wimbledon for the championship and a rivalry that would ultimately create a friendship.
|You can actually hear the "grunts" when you look at this picture.|
|He got the rebellious nature out of Borg and the stress|
gave him a sweet comb-over!
The thing that immediately struck me about Borg vs McEnroe is the “We’re not so different, you and I” aspect of the storytelling. The story explores the background of both players as it leads up to their big match and we see that they each have similar evolutions as characters but in reverse. Borg is seen as a flashy, kinda reckless player in his youth and is trained to be a cold, extremely disciplined athlete by his trainer Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgård). Meanwhile, McEnroe is portrayed as the opposite as his youth was filled with a strict, calculated upbringing with no room for emotional attachments. The film weaves these backstories in through the use of flashbacks they fit perfectly with the buildup to the match and provides a rich and engaging format that slowly develops how they came to be, where these two players came from, and why they are the crafted beings they become in the world of tennis. It was a truly fantastic way to tell the story and makes a great sports drama as it highlights character and emotional arcs, as well as delivering a truly exciting spectacle in their big match.
|10 years ago I wanted nothing to do with LaBeouf, now I want to watch everything he does!|
The performances in this film as crazy strong as both Sverrir Gundnason and Shia LaBeouf capture the complexities of these characters. For example, it would be easy to just play McEnroe as a wild card, tantrum throwing one-note cardboard cutout or to play Borg as near robotic as a player but both Gundnason and LaBeouf showcased the depth of both men and it was utterly fascinating to watch. You could feel the background and complexities within each character and it help sell a very grounded and realistic portrayal from both actors.
|That hair alone is enough for a championship!|
Very much like the last tennis-based sports drama I watched, Borg vs McEnroe isn’t so much about the tennis as it is about the characters. That isn’t to say the film is pushing the sport to the background but rather the film explores how these two players grew up with the sport and how it ultimately molded them to the champions they were. I loved the symmetry of how their paths were essentially completely the opposite but that ultimately made them the same and when you have two very memorable performances for these two tennis pros, it made for a film that was very engaging and consuming. The cherry on top was the very exciting exploration of the championship itself in the final act!