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|aka: Borg vs McEnroe
dir Janus Metz
scr Ronnie Sandahl
prd Jon Nohrstedt, Fredrik Wikstrom
with Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgard, Tuva Novotny, Scott Arthur, Robert Emms, Leo Borg, Marcus Mossberg, Jackson Gann, Jane Perry, Ian Blackman, Mats Blomgren
release Swe 8.Sep.17, UK 22.Sep.17,
Clash of the titans: Gudnason and LaBeouf
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
A skilful dramatisation of one of tennis' big rivalries, this film explores what it takes to be at the top of a sport. Since it's made in Sweden, it naturally focusses on Bjorn Borg (in Scandinavia the title is simply Borg) and cleverly uses John McEnroe to find both the obvious contrasts and the more hidden similarities between these men. It's a gripping film that will resonate far beyond tennis fans.
In 1980, the press couldn't get enough of cool-as-a-cucumber top-ranked Borg (Gudnason), although they were distracted by the colourful outbursts from second-ranked McEnroe (LaBeouf). As Wimbledon championships kick off, the two are on a collision course to the Centre Court final, looking like polar extremes as far as temperaments and playing styles go. McEnroe hangs out with friends Peter Fleming (Arthur) and Vitas Garulatis (Emms), at least until it's time to play them. Meanwhile, Borg is keeping his head even as he clashes with his manager Lennart (Skarsgard) and worries his fiancee Mariana (Novotny).
The film digs much deeper into Borg's life (and a bit into McEnroe's) by flashing back to childhood experiences. Intriguingly, Borg looks a lot more like McEnroe as a teen (Mossberg), with a short temper and angry tantrums that he must learn how to control. McEnroe (Gann), by contrast, can't even control his hair. Only three years apart in age, Borg (24) was considered a veteran while McEnroe (21) a young upstart.
Both actors capture intriguing textures. Gudnason has more to do as the introspective Borg, understanding that once he starts losing it'll be time to retire. He's also thinking about his relationship with Mariana (Novotny gets some strong moments of her own). LaBeouf is solid as the mercurial McEnroe, who went onto court to boos and left to a standing ovation for his ragged determination. And Skarsgard adds gravitas as Borg's patient mentor.
Director Metz spices up match sequences with eye-catching camerawork. With a 1980s texture, much of the film looks like old TV footage or nostalgic home movies. And it's refreshing to see a film about real people that concentrates on internal journeys rather than just lining up best-known public events. Even the climactic match plays in a way that fights back against most rah-rah biopics, gliding through various points to build a bigger picture than the battle on the court. As a result, while the story may feel a bit cold, we're able to understand how it feels to play for the title.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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