Tennis fans, rejoice! Last year’s under-appreciated “Battle of the Sexes” has opened the doors for another undeniably entertaining biopic revolving around tennis—“Borg vs. McEnroe.” The film, written by Ronnie Sandahl and starring Sverirr Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, and Stellan Skarsgard, takes you back in time to the intense rivalry between two polar opposite tennis stars, the hot-headed John McEnroe and the even-keeled Nordic legend, Bjorn Borg. The intensity spills over into the storyline, learning about these larger-than-life players and witnessing what might be the most dramatic competition in any sport.
We meet each of these players at the height of their game, but are quickly brought back to their respective childhoods, gaining keen insight to their background, difficulties, and family relationships. The film focuses more upon the young Borg, his parents’ lack of financial wealth, and the boy’s inability to control his temper, allowing you to draw the conclusion that perhaps Borg and McEnroe really aren’t that different. McEnroe has his own demons to wrestle from his youth, all of which he confronts as the day draws nearer to battling Borg at Wimbledon. Never has a championship been seen from the psychological aspect, delving into the pressures they each feel from their perspective. McEnroe, cocky and boisterous, must defeat a 4 time champion. And Borg, rumored to be getting old, must defend his title for the 5th time—something no one had ever done at that time. While most of us will never be the best in one particular arena, this film gets us very close to understanding the sacrifices and the mindset it takes to do so.
Sverirr embodies Borg not just physically, but with his mannerisms and speech as well. His head hangs in introspection with his shoulders slouching, only to gain confidence and composure once he steps onto the courts. His long hair, cool demeanor, and chilling intensity is the very center of the real Borg, making his performance to be at once believable and real. LaBeouf’s career seems to have stalled, but his portrayal of McEnroe is stellar. While he isn’t McEnroe’s body double, he perfects the tennis champion’s speech and physical outbursts the player is known for. As the story depicts Borg disproportionately, we also see Borg’s coach, Lennert Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgard), step into his life as more of a father figure with tough love and life lessons to teach. Together, a complete picture is painted to more fully understand who Bjorn Borg is and how he became the most revered player of the decade.
As the story unfolds, editing is key with this film as we jump back and forth between childhood memories, current day situations, and recent events. Capturing this to tell the story along a timeline that makes sense is a difficult feat that “Borg vs. McEnroe” achieves. Incredible camera work to recreate the matches brings you directly into the stands as you hold your breath with every serve and missed call. You know the outcome, yet you’re still on the edge of your seat wondering what’s going to truly happen.
“Borg vs. McEnroe” is a sheer delight to watch, particularly if you’re a fan of tennis and that era. Sverirr, LaBeouf, and Skarsgard expertly portray each of their characters, bringing a sense of reality and connection to the story.
You can see “Borg vs. McEnroe” in theaters and select digital platforms such as Amazon.
3 1/2 Stars