Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: Borg vs McEnroe

Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: Borg vs McEnroe

Article excerpt

Borg vs McEnroe is a dramatised account of one of the greatest tennis rivalries of all time -- between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe (the clue was always in the title) -- that doesn't hit nearly as hard as it should. It does the job. It gets us from A to B. But it doesn't dazzle. It doesn't have the dramatic smarts to lend either surprising tension or excitement to otherwise familiar events, or shed any new light on them. It's more the pt-pt-pt-pt of a stolid baseline rally and now, you will be thankful to hear, that's it with the tennis puns. (I only had two anyhow.)

The film stars Sverrir Gudnason as Borg and Shia LaBeouf as McEnroe and it all plays out in the lead-up to their most famous showdown. That is, the 1980 Wimbledon final that ran to five tempestuous sets. For Borg, the cool Swede, a win would mean a record-breaking fifth consecutive title, but only if he could see off this American upstart with the volatile temper, potty mouth and wild, frizzy hair. It also interlaces their back stories although, being a Scandinavian production, it is far more interested in Borg than in McEnroe. The film could quite easily have been called plain Borg. Yet we still don't get under his skin. Far from it. Mostly, he is allowed to stare deeply into the middle distance like some dishy Scandi-noir detective or, perhaps, a character from a Bergman film. But what is he thinking? We never find out.

Directed by Janus Metz, and written by Ronnie Sandahl, the film initially depicts the players as polar opposites. Borg is shown in his Monaco apartment, staring deeply and dishily out to sea, while McEnroe watches TV footage of himself, remonstrating with a referee, prior to appearing on a TV chat show. 'You and Borg are as different as two people can be,' the chat-show host tells him.

Borg is 'Ice-Borg'. He is unflappable, seemingly emotionless. He spends the night before matches testing the strings on nearly 50 rackets, feeling the tension with his bare feet. Meanwhile, McEnroe ('Superbrat') is shown losing his cool every which way. He loses his cool on court, with interviewers, and does not obsessively test his rackets the night before. Instead, he goes clubbing. I think that if the chat-show host hadn't pointed out that they're as different as two people can be, we might possibly even have worked it out for ourselves. …

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