The performances manage to encapsulate the tension that the rivalry brought to the game
Set during the Wimbledon tennis championship of 1980, the reigning world number one Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) is touted to win his fifth title, but the young American maverick John McEnroe (Shia Lebeouf) is set to pose a serious threat. Both men excel on the court, but it’s their personal lives that show who they really are.
It often feels like the film is just the story of Borg, as if McEnroe has been added only for publicity. His sections lack both time and depth when compared to the sheer number of scenes Borg is handed, and this runs even deeper when the lengthy and detailed shots of Borg are closely analysed. Both men are powerful in their own fashion, an element that the film largely fails to show.
Both men are powerful in their own way, an element that the film largely fails to show. Instead, director Janus Metz Pedersen is obsessed with comparing the personalities, showing how similar they are. An idea that doesn’t completely hold up in the final cut, and a taint on what is otherwise a very good film.
With a low budget, Borg Vs. McEnroe has a high quality production value throughout and the performances manage to encapsulate the tension that the rivalry brought to the game. As a sports film, it is on par with Ron Howard’s Rush for its capture of the atmosphere brought at such an important time. Yet it fails to match it in its off-court drama, perhaps trying to keep too much distance with a subtle style of filmmaking.
This is a very good film, about a fiercely fought sports rivalry, and Pedersen has done a brilliant job of catching the emotion and power of the game. The outside drama lacks the raw intensity that it should have, and its focus feels as if it is centred around the wrong elements of the men’s lives. Yet, with strong character performances and a passionate script, Borg Vs. McEnroe is a thrilling watch even with its obvious negatives.