An Incredibly Stylish Sport Biopic
Whether you’re a fan of the sport or not, Borg VS McEnroe manages to turn a tennis match into an exciting, tense affair in this slickly made sport biopic. A constantly shifting focus between the two players and a clever use of artistic camera shots help Borg VS McEnroe stand out from the mass of biographical sport films on the market and whilst it might not be the most intense rivalry you’re likely to see on screen, incredible performances from Shia Lebouf and Sverrir Gudnason anchor the film and help give it an air of authenticity and tension that drives the narrative forward.
Borg VS McEnroe focuses on the rivalry between two of the most iconic tennis players in history, building toward the nail biting climax that sees the two megastars competing against one another in the Wimbledon Final of 1980. Borg (Sverrir Gudnason), on the the cusp of winning an unprecedented fifth Wimbledon title at the age of 26, against McEnroe (Shia Lebouf), a colourful, short tempered firecracker. The artistically crafted story regularly switches focus from McEnroe to Borg and back again throughout the film, juxtaposing the very different personas of the two characters. Some well placed flashbacks help to anchor the story and show the motivations behind the players but the film leans heavily toward Borg in this respect for vast stretches of the run time, offsetting the balance between the players. Its not a deal breaker but with both characters suffering from a troubled childhood, it would have been nice to see a little bit more of McEnroe’s tough relationship with his parents to help flesh out his motivations.
Its worth noting as well that most of Björn Borg’s scenes are not in English. Those that find themselves dreading a lot of subtitle reading may well find Borg Vs McEnroe a little bit of a chore to get through. For those that can stick it out though or are indifferent to this, the patience is rewarded by an undeniably exciting finale.
Borg VS McEnroe is exquisitely shot and artistically crafted on a technical level too. Whether it be the rapid fire editing or the clever use of aerial shots and a plethora of artistic pans with the camera, Borg Vs. McEnroe isn’t afraid to shake things up and really give the film a fascinating, interesting feel to its visuals. Its helped too by brilliant music, underlined by a tone of tension and anxiety that hangs over almost every track, building up to the penultimate swing of the tennis racket when the tension dissipates and is replaced by a more upbeat score. Its subtle, but its enough to really appreciate just how important the music is to this film.
Much can be said for Shia Lebouf’s acting but here he gives the performance of a lifetime. His perfect portrayal of John McEnroe is incredible and the way his character manages to effortlessly walk the tightrope between cockiness and confidence whilst instilling empathy in the audience despite this arrogance is extraordinary. Alongside Sverrir Gudnason who deserves credit too for his powerful performance of Björn Borg, the two manage to elevate the film far beyond what was expected when the film was first announced.
Whilst there are better biopics out there, Borg VS McEnroe throws down the gauntlet and provides an excellent slice of sporting history in a respectful and gripping manner. Excellent acting and visuals are helped by a tightly woven script that manages to effortlessly switch perspectives and jump back and forward in time without ever offsetting the pacing or feel of the film. The climactic ending proves that tennis can be an emotionally charged, amazing and oftentimes exciting sport even if the rivalry between the characters off the court doesn’t quite live up to that shown on the court.