Borg vs McEnroe review Tuva Novotny Sverrir GudnasonYear: 2018
Director(s): Janus Metz
Writer(s): Ronnie Sandahl
Region of Origin: Sweden, Denmark, Finland

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 107 mins

Synopsis: The story of the 1980s tennis rivalry between the placid Björn Borg and the volatile John McEnroe. (Source)

Recently, I, Tonya used its iconic athlete to dissect an underdog hero turned celebrity scapegoat. But while that film focused on the disconnect between athlete and fan, Janus Metz’s Borg vs McEnroe uses sport to capture the inimitable battle raging within. Centered around Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe’s infamous 1980 Wimbledon showdown, Metz creates a fierce portrait of triumph, loss and struggle. With such a monumental rivalry in tow, Metz transforms personal struggle into professional resilience. Tennis then becomes an analogue for life’s ups and downs. Giving everything depth and relatable tension, Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf illustrate how there’s no greater opponent than ourselves.

On the eve of 1980’s Wimbledon Tournament, Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) is ranked #1 in the world and vying for his fifth consecutive championship. Cool and collected on the surface, he’s a rockstar athlete hiding doubt, fearful of how quickly he could lose it all. Opposite, John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) is a rising star, taking the tennis world by storm through tantrums and a fierce playing style. McEnroe is like a rageful open book, much to the dismay of those who believe the sport was created for more distinguished gentlemen. As each athlete confronts their deepest insecurities and hurtles towards an inevitable showdown, they run the risk of burning everything down around them.

The film’s greatest accomplishment is its intimate lens. Metz’s effort is personal and sincere, creating a taut web of determination, endurance, doubt, self-destruction and sacrifice. Ultimately, Metz presents Borg and McEnroe as mirrors of each other, each looking to the other with admiration and fear. There’s never a moment the film doesn’t feel raw and urgent, whittling athletic performance to a battle triggered by insatiable drive. As such, Metz’s journey towards the inevitable is an emotional roller coaster, showing how Borg and McEnroe never gave less then everything each time they set foot on court, and conversely, that the games never really ended, even after each match point.

Borg vs McEnroe review Shia LaBeoufIt’s impossible to talk about the film’s merits without bringing up its inspired casting. With the film slanting more towards Borg’s perspective, Gudnason is our entry point into the film. He embodies all of its energy and ideas with understated resolve. He also feels as if he could explode at any moment, balancing existential torment with inquisitive sincerity. Opposite, LaBeouf’s McEnroe is perfect. He may not be the tennis star’s spitting image, but he’s got the fire through and through. What LaBeouf does, is give McEnroe a complexity beyond the surface theatrics. In this way, McEnroe is more than just vengeful words. Needless to say, the film thrives in the grey area where both men converge, rendering an intricate clash for the ages, and then, something much deeper. Stellan Skarsgard and Tuva Novotny add texture to both Borg and McEnroe, with supporting roles that hold weight.

Metz’s intentions are clear from the very first frame. Things kick off by calling out how tennis uses the language of life itself. Advantage, service, fault, break and love are all terms used within each match, and in the best way, Metz draws a parallel to the motives that keep us afloat. After all is said and done, Borg vs McEnroe is endlessly thrilling and even touching. With its impeccable performances and Metz’s human touch, this is a biopic that celebrates our innate search for more, as well as the unpredictability that takes us where we’d least expect.

SG