Rated: R for language throughout, and some nudity. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: April 13, 2018 Released by: Neon
Not quite as narratively compelling as the recent Battle of the Sexes, another kind of tennis rivalry circa 1980 is examined in a fairly insightful way where the makeup of a championship caliber athlete is concerned.
A Swedish-backed Borg vs. McEnroe has more of an emphasis on a top-ranked Bjorn Borg but nicely locates the disparity and commonalities between two men three years apart (the cool, composed Swede being the older).
During the Iran hostage crisis on the sports front the media was drawn to 24-year-old 'veteran' Borg (Sverrir Gudnason). At the same time having to endure the off-color antics of an upstart second-ranked Big Apple native John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf, known for his off-screen outbursts and of American Honey, Lawless, and Fury) at the start of the prestigious Wimbledon grass-court major tournament. They appear destined to meet in the finals on Centre Court with clearly varying court methods and demeanors.
Borg looks to be on an even-keel though there is disagreement with manager Bergelin Lennart (Stellan Skarsgaard of Ronin, Thor, Melancholia) and concern from his nervy fiancée Mariana (Tuva Novotny). McEnroe chills with chums and fellow competitors Vitas Gerulaitis (Robert Emms) and Peter Fleming (Scott Arthur) before having to meet them across the net. Other dignitaries of the sport on view include Jimmy Connors (Tom Datnow) and humanitarian and later AIDS victim Arthur Ashe (Jason Forbes).
'Looking back' sequences allow for more introspection (at least in Borg's case) when it comes to youthful formative years. Oddly, Borg as a teen (Marcus Mossberg) was the more high-strung while McEnroe (Jackson Gann) had hair rarely easy to manage.
Gudnason offers a ruminative quality as the dominant Borg who sees his 'big picture' more clearly based on how long a streak of success may last and his future with Mariana (Novotny, injecting some emotional texture). LaBeouf is authoritative as a resolved, volatile McEnroe who would deal with boos and leave to a standing ovation (from long-suffering fans, not just local upper-crust and royalty) for an outspoken, yet unwavering resiliency.
Chief Danish overseer Janus Metz Pedersen works nicely with his technical staff especially in producing some arresting shots during match play. A period feel is established with a kind of documentary-like (not to mention small-screen) inner reminiscence in going beyond the key incident to acknowledge the personal vicissitudes in attaining huge accolades.
Whatever the overall lack of affection for what transpires on screen the crucial event smoothly goes over convention to refreshingly transcend the tense struggle at hand yielding more than a long tie-breaker. Perhaps winning over a few more than the tennis circuit through interesting and reverberating rallying.
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