The ice-cool Swede against the hot-headed American: that’s how tennis players Björn Borg and John McEnroe were known, and that’s mostly how they are portrayed in this drama. Shia LaBeouf is a natural choice for McEnroe, the talented but unruly young buck prone to temper tantrums that became infamous in the run-up to the 1980 Wimbledon final and spawned the catchphrase “You cannot be serious!”.
Sverrir Gudnason is also a great fit and his resemblance to Borg is uncanny. If you’re too young to remember them, you should know that these guys were huge news in their day: household names that became tabloid catnip thanks to a combination of their extraordinary ability and wildly contrasting personalities.
Or maybe not. This multi-lingual film from Danish director Janus Metz delves back into Borg’s childhood to reveal a young man with anger management issues that were only eventually harnessed by his trainer, Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgård). In one key scene, Bergelin instructs the player to channel all his fury into the match: show no emotion outside of the game. It speaks volumes about his commitment. Borg vs McEnroe is as much about the psychology of sport and success as it is about rivalry: these men sacrificed almost everything to get to the top.
It’s a little frustrating to be deprived of quite as much access to McEnroe’s private life and we don’t get to the heart of the man. LaBeouf is good, but his performance is – ironically – desperately serious, as is the tone of this film. Still, the final match is an absolute nail-biter, reminding tennis fans how electric this sport can be.
The bottom line
Gripping tennis but not enough depth.