Wednesday 26 September 2018

Gudnason and LaBeouf serve and volley solid performances as tennis greats

Shia LaBeouf and Sverrir Gudnason as John McEnroe and Björn Borg, respectively.
Shia LaBeouf and Sverrir Gudnason as John McEnroe and Björn Borg, respectively.

Film review


On Saturday, July 5, 1980, reigning Wimbledon men's champion and world number one Björn Borg faced hot-headed challenger and world number two John McEnroe on the centre Court of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

The Swede was aiming to win a fifth consecutive title on grass in front of a partisan crowd while the American wanted to silence doubters after his ill-tempered semi-final win over Jimmy Connors.

The showdown - billed as Ice Man versus Super Brat - lasted almost four hours, including a titanic fourth-set tie break, and pushed both men to the limit of their physical and mental endurance.

More than 35 years later, the 1980 final remains one of the greatest matches played on the hallowed turf of SW19.

Danish filmmaker Janus Metz Pedersen immortalises this battle of fortitude and sweat-drenched resilience in Borg Vs McEnroe.

His assured dramatisation weights affection and sympathy heavily in favour of the champion.

It's no surprise that in Scandinavia, the film's title is truncated to Borg.

Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf serve and volley solid performances as the tennis greats, with a focus on the former's dreamy good looks and gentlemanly demeanour. Even if you don't know the outcome, Pedersen's picture makes abundantly clear who deserves to collapses in tears of joy after a hard-fought battle from the baseline.

Borg (Gudnason) arrives in London with his gruff coach Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgard) and the burden of expectation on his shoulders.

Romanian fiancee Mariana Simionescu (Tuva Novotny) has packed Bjorn's bags and he stays in the same hotel room, a slave to superstition and ritual.

In stark contrast, McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) arrives alone and takes a laid-back approach to the championship, including partying late at night with fellow player Vitas Gerilaitis (Robert Emms).

John isn't concerned about the hostile reception he is likely to receive.

'If I beat Borg in the final, it's very hard to boo me if I'm number one,' cockily asserts the American.

A patchwork of flashbacks draws parallels between the players' formative years, revealing the young Björn (played by Leo Borg and Markus Mossberg) struggled to control his temper and had to be reined in by Lennart.

'Promise to never show a single emotion again,' the coach firmly instructs his teenage charge. 'Be like a pressure cooker.'

Borg Vs McEnroe heeds that advice, bottling emotions beneath a pristine exterior and some briskly edited tennis sequences.

Only once, during a fleeting scene at Heathrow airport, does that cool exterior threaten to crack.

The final match consumes around 20 minutes of the running time and captures some of the tension that crackled in the air that glorious day.

A couple of points separated the two men - for director Pedersen, it's clear-cut.

Game, set, unevenly matched.

RATING: 6/10

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