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BORG VS MCENROE gets 5.5/10 Line call

Directed by Janus Metz
Starring Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård

5.5/10

On the cusp of a record breaking fifth Wimbledon title Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) is facing a crisis of confidence. With brash new rival John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) clipping at his heels Borg must try and retain the calmness and precision that has come to signify his career or have his dreams of greatness snatched from his grasp.

A character study, Borg vs McEnroe pits two apparent opposites (the coolly calculating and the explosively volatile) against each other. Yet as the layers are peeled away, audiences witness two individuals that share much in common. Both are intensely passionate about the sport, both aim for perfection, and both are frustrated when that aim is not achieved.

However for Borg vs McEnroe to truly work, each subject must be equally weighted as the two greats are pitted against each other, and this is not the case. Much more of the run-time is dedicated to the reigning champion, rather than the brash newcommer. In its exploration of Borg, Borg vs McEnroe does loose some of its dramatic tension and flags in its pacing towards the beginning of its third act. This is understandable, for despite Sverrir Gudnason’s consummate performance as the ice cool Borg, Shia LaBeouf’s fiery McEnroe is an obvious scene stealer. As the camera shifts from McEnroe, so to does the vibrancy of the film begin to drop.

Thankfully director Janus Metz pulls this back at the last moment by his portrayal of the big match. Each of the tennis matches brought to the screen are things of beauty, conveying a different feel for each game, while managing to give audiences a good sense of the match. That last epic confrontation for the Wimbledon final, is certainly one for the ages, and something that Metz manages to capture. Here you are given the sense of a titanic battle, as the match becomes a grinding slugfest between two champions desperate to win, and both giving their all to achieve it. The overhead shots of the game are masterfully captured with a painterly eye, giving you everything you need to engage with this titanic struggle of wills.

The downside is that obvious comparisons are going to be drawn with that other tennis bio-pic for the year, Battle of the Sexes, and that’s where Borg vs McEnroe gets aced. Ultimately, despite fine craftsmanship, and some solid performances (especially from LeBeouf – and that physically pains me to say), Borg vs McEnroe does not say anything that profound about the two sports greats it is covering – other than they are dedicated, talented, and gave their all for the sport. Without meaning to be callous, surely at this level of competition, that’s a fact we can take as given.

A solid sports film, but one that doesn’t quite live up to the titans that are its subject.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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