Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason), who you invariable root for during the nail-biting finish, is not an underdog. He’s an overachiever, fighting for his record-breaking fifth Wimbledon title. There’s no reason to pity him – he’s popular, hardworking, successful and most of all, gentlemanly. Yet Borg McEnroe evokes sympathy for the tennis champion, venturing beyond the stoic façade of the “Ice Man”, to reveal a person on the verge of a breakdown.
Borg’s coach Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgård) discovers him as a defiant teen, who he trains into being a emotionless player. “Be like a pressure cooker and block everything inside,” instructs the coach. After years of practice – both in tennis and stoicism – he emerges as a brooding, introverted and focused champion. After winning the Wimbledon title four times in a row, you don’t know if it is the fear of losing or the habit of winning that keeps him up at night. On the other side, there is John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf), a temperamental American brat, who has nothing to lose. “It’s the Nordic blood versus the brash New Yorker,” declares a commentator before their historic 1980 match.
Borg and McEnroe appear to have little in common, but the film argues otherwise. It depicts how the two players are essentially of the same temperament and mental make-up, but one chose to contain it while the other made it his notoriety. As far fetched from reality as it may be, the film portrays that Borg and McEnroe are driven solely by their back stories. In doing so, it creates a narrative that aptly builds up to a crackling finale but seldom explores the complexities and grey areas of sportsmanship and insecurities.
- Director: Janus Metz Pedersen
- Cast: Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård, Tuva Novotny and Ian Blackman
- Story line: Biographical drama exploring Björn Borg and John McEnroe’s rivalry
Filmmaker Janus Metz Pedersen spends a leisurely 20 minutes in a 107-minute film on the Wimbledon match, crafting the sequence in a turbulent and thrilling fashion. There’s a lot at stake for the two men, and Pedersen makes that fairly evident. Gudnason as Borg aptly and impressively plays a volcano always on the verge of eruption but never does, even on the big day. The only moment you see him crack is in a shower scene, where he is mildly sobbing, allowing himself the luxury of emotions. Borg McEnroe is clearly more invested in him, as evident in the film’s Swedish title – Borg. But despite that LaBeouf manages to match up as the capricious McEnroe.
Even though the 1980 match is the reason for the film’s existence, at the centre of the story are two people, who started as strangers, moved to being rivals and later became close friends. At the start, the film quotes Andre Agassi: “Every match is a life in miniature”. The film doesn’t entirely match up to the drama in that sentence, but it surely reflects the truth in those words.