Borg vs. McEnroe Movie Review
Last year, Battle of the Sexes received plenty of hype while another, superior tennis drama was volleying between film festivals. Sexes, which had a more interesting hook and better cast, netted only $12 million at the box office, while Borg vs. McEnroe went straight to On Demand, where it’s now available to stream.
Starring Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf, Borg vs. McEnroe explores the lives of two distinctly different competitors—one a stoic, quiet, relentless machine, the other a brash, offensive rebel—leading up to their famed Wimbledon match.
Directed by Janus Metz, Borg vs. McEnroe is a methodically entertaining drama that uses character development as if it’s arranging pieces on a chessboard, preparing and explaining the dichotomy of the two warriors who will soon square off on the grass. As someone who neither is a tennis fan despite my mother’s repeated attempts nor was even conceived at the time of this movie takes place, I knew next to nothing about Björn Borg and only a bit more about John McEnroe. Metz does a fine job establishing what made these two individuals tick and explaining how they came to be what they were—fierce competitors.
Despite LaBeouf being the biggest name in the movie (aside, maybe, from Stellan Skarsgaard, who plays Borg’s coach), I was a little surprised and disappointed that Borg vs. McEnroe doesn’t give equal weight to the two men. Perhaps it was because Borg was the more interesting case study—at least in the movie, he is presented as an emotionally repressed robot, who at age 26, citing stress and exhaustion, retired from tennis, whereas McEnroe was up-and-coming and wore his emotions on his shoulders—but the movie feels very much like a drama about Borg, with stretches on McEnroe thrown in for good measure. In that vein, Metz is unable to truly tap into or explain what motivates McEnroe.
Still, both Gudnason and LaBeouf deliver strong performances, and the movie, working from a solid screenplay by Ronnie Sandahl, keeps you invested in the two men throughout. The championship tennis match is also done extremely well, and at least for someone like me who didn’t know the outcome, it kept me on the edge of my seat.
Borg vs. McEnroe is a well-made, sometimes fascinating drama that will appeal primarily to tennis fans, though if I’m any indicator, will click with anyone who appreciates sports and getting into the minds of the world’s top athletes.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.