Derek Winnert


This article was written on 19 Sep 2017, and is filled under Uncategorized.

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Borg vs McEnroe [Borg McEnroe] *** (2017, Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård) – Movie Review 

Sverrir Gudnason is pushing 40, playing 25, but he still makes a grand slam job of playing tennis champ Björn Borg, who is shown here having big fat jitters on the eve of his possible historic fifth title win at Wimbledon in 1980. With his Swedish good looks, he is treated like a pop star wherever he goes, and doesn’t want to be remembered as the man who lost his fifth championship in favour of the loud-mouthed American upstart John McEnroe, the man the press love to hate.

It turns out Borg wasn’t the placid character of legend after all. He was a troublesome brat as a kid, just as his main rival John McEnroe is as an adult in 1980. In a very un-Swedish seeming way, he has an anger and rage inside. He is told as a teenager that to win he much take one point at a time, and that he has to keep calm to carry on to success. Borg comes over as a pleasant but complex and troubled individual, full of demons, forced to repeat patterns, compelled to win not just play the game like a gentleman.

It is a fun idea to cast another real-life bad boy, Shia LaBeouf, as tennis’s superbrat McEnroe. It is a bit of a gamble – and it pays off. LaBeouf at 31 is also over-age for his character, but both actors look right, look like they can play tennis, and give excellent performances. If Gudnason wins the Gudnason vs LaBeouf contest, that is mainly because there is more emphasis on Borg, and his role is better written, and there is m ore of it, with lots of flashbacks to the young Björn Borg aged 9-13, played by Björn’s real son Leo Borg.

Stellan Skarsgård gets the other decently developed role as Borg’s coach Lennart Bergelin. The two men are portrayed as having a slightly tricky, testy father-son relationship, whose core is also tested at this Wimbledon final.

Those who can’t remember, don’t know or can’t be bothered to find out are kept firmly in the dark till the end as to who wins the Borg vs McEnroe final. It is restaged very tensely, with its nailbiting moments replayed nailbitingly. There is plenty of emotional and tennis tension throughout the movie. Ronnie Sandahl’s screenplay tries to get inside the minds and souls of the two champions, with very considerable success.

It is a shame the script has to keep the two characters almost entirely apart, so they basically have just one little scene together, but there it is. You kind of look forward to McEnroe enraging Born in a tirade of verbal abuse, but that never happens of course.

In some ways it is not much more than a TV movie, but it is a very good one, and is stays in the mind afterwards, haunting you and challenging you, especially with its central question of how do you want to live your life.

Writer Ronnie Sandahl has a cameo as a Swedish reporter at Heathrow.

© Derek Winnert 2017 Movie Review 

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