This drama about the rivalry between tennis greats Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe is a pretty good distillation of most sport, a mix of exhilarating action and ponderous introspection.
Stylish, perfectly cast and with a cracking game of tennis at the end, Borg vs McEnroe takes us behind the scenes in the build-up to Wimbledon in 1980. Swedish Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) is the number one player in the world and chasing his fifth Wimbledon championship. A perfect gentleman of the sport, a Borg final with fiery up-and-coming American John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) is just what the crowd wants, and gets.
As well as covering the tournament, in which Borg is overwhelmed by the weight of expectation and McEnroe frustrated by the media's obsession over his behaviour rather than his tennis, director Janus Metz flashes back to their childhoods in an attempt to see what makes the players tick.
Ronnie Sandahl's screenplay (not endorsed by either player) suggests they were more alike than anyone realised. Borg, though, was trained by his coach (Stellan Skarsgard) to channel his anger and temper into playing great tennis; McEnroe just had a pushy father to deal with.
There's more emphasis on Borg, and if it's tennis you're after be prepared to wait until the final act. The lead-up to the legendary final is filled with thoughtful, day-to-day moments which reveal the men's characters rather than analysis of their play. Excellent performances by Gudnason (whose physical similarity to Borg is quite remarkable) and LaBeouf (whose personality likeness to his character is notable too), easily sustain the quieter moments.
Both characters are presented sympathetically - which may surprise when it comes to the belligerent McEnroe - and makes the tournament's final match that much more exciting for those unaware of what happened; for those who do, it's still worth reliving.
: Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf
M (Offensive language and nudity)
A Scandi sports drama - moody and exciting.
DID YOU KNOW…
In Borg vs McEnroe the young Bjorn Borg is played by his real life son, Leo Borg.