Released in Scandinavia under the name of just ‘Borg’ – the very inclusion of ‘McEnroe’ in the title of the release in the States and the UK amongst many other territories, inadvertently becomes of the film’s greatest shortcomings. This is a biopic of the Swedish tennis star, and by no means the rivalry drama we had anticipated, in the same vein of Rush, for example. Instead McEnroe becomes a mere support, as we delve into the life of Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) – which still has enough about it to sustain a feature length film, it’s just a shame we’d gone in expecting something entirely different.
Borg has won Wimbledon four years in a row, and has become a worldwide celebrity, living now in Monaco, as he readies himself, both physically and mentally, for the forthcoming arrival of the tennis’ biggest competition. Though this year on the green grass of centre court he could come up against one of his hardest opponents yet, the impetuous, volatile youngster John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf), bringing an element of rock and roll to the sport, working as a polar opposite to his more methodical, pensive Swedish counterpart. But as we progress through flashbacks we begin to see that Borg himself shared many similar traits to McEnroe, getting in a lot of trouble as a youth for similar incidents that now plague the career of McEnroe. But those around him always maintained their faith, and none more so that his loyal trainer Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgard) and his wife, Mariana (Tuva Novotny).
This year Roger Federer beat Marin Cilic to claim his eighth Wimbledon crown. It was a entertaining match, certainly, but would it justify a cinematic retelling in three decades time? Not in the slightest, and for Borg/McEnroe – though their encounter looked electrifying, it still doesn’t have enough about it to warrant this endeavour. It’s just a striking match up of the two best tennis players in the world, in the final of a Grand Slam. But that happens every single year – and it feels like more needed to have happened to justify Janus Metz bringing it to the big screen.
It’s just not enough of a sporting rivalry movie, there wasn’t enough history between the two. The performances from both are impressive though, and there’s no denying the indelible aesthetic, particularly during the final act, as the game itself is depicted in a creative, authentic way. But then the in the closing credits we hear about what happened to these two sporting individuals beyond their encounter in 1980, and the subsequent information of the two athletes, and in particular their friendship, is completely fascinating, to a point where you can’t help but wish that this was the story we were told, and not the one we had just sat through.