Running time: 100 mins
Release Date: 22nd September 2017
Director: Janus Metz
Cast: Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgard, Tuva Novotny, David Bamber, Ian Blackman, Robert Emms, Leo Borg
It’s the summer of 1980 and Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) is the top tennis player in the world. A powerful and rigorously disciplined player, there is only one obstacle in his pursuit of a record-breaking fifth Wimbledon championship: the highly talented but ferociously abrasive young American, John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf). With three days until the tournament begins, Borg trains religiously in his lavish Monaco home, aided by his coach and mentor Lennart (Stellan Skarsgård) and girlfriend Mariana (Tuva Novotny). But McEnroe’s explosive confidence and wrecking-ball persona continue to infiltrate Borg’s ice-cool and normally unshakable temperament. With each man the antithesis of the other, both players delve into their formative memories as the climactic tournament draws near and anticipation reaches fever pitch. Visceral and breathlessly tense, the match itself – regarded as one of the greatest of all time – would mark the pinnacle of the ‘Fire and Ice’ rivalry between them.
My first introduction to tennis was at primary school. It was all down to my childhood school friend, Caroline who developed a fascination for Björn Borg. She spent every spare moment, drawing Borg and cartoon strips of John McEnroe, with “You cannot be serious!” speech bubbles, eventually drawing her crush vs his rival into a cartoon complete with headbands.
By the time I finally watched tennis on television, Borg was no longer playing professionally, but McEnroe was still throwing his tennis rackets, I wanted to see what Caroline’s kiddie crush was all about.
The title Borg Vs McEnroe instantly reminds me of those summer days of 1979 and 1980, and the film takes us back to that time, with the great, almost uncanny lookalike casting of Gudnason, and to a lesser degree, LaBeouf. As Borg prepares for his fifth attempt at the Wimbledon championship, we see flashbacks to his childhood (played by Borg’s son, Leo Borg), and highlights of his journey to professional player. These flashbacks give an insight into the inscrutable ‘IceBorg’ character that I never knew about and adds depth to the rivalry between Borg and McEnroe. McEnroe also has flashbacks to his childhood, and again, there are examples of his intelligence, drive and ‘SpoiltBrat’ nickname. I found these insights to their characters fascinating. The same flashbacks were repeated through the film, and I felt they were over-used – we didn’t need to see the same clips over to get the message.
Another challenge the film had was to make tennis look exciting on film. I had a little help with feeling nervous, as I hadn’t checked and didn’t remember the actual outcome of the 1980 championship. I was tense, I didn’t know what would happen next. If I’d known the outcome or how the match played out, I might not have found it so interesting! The film finds the right balance to keep it interesting enough for me.
The claimed rivalry doesn’t really come across on screen, infact, in some way, you get the impression that the players admired each other – this makes it a nicer film, touching. You get a sense of how intense match preparation is, and it offers insight into the off-court pressures and tensions of all tennis players.
I’m not a big tennis fan, I’ll watch a game if I catch it on, but I don’t currently follow the players, and I still enjoyed this film, loved what I learnt, and came away with a good feeling from Borg vs McEnroe.