Borg vs. McEnroe

Out Now On-Demand

Some stars shine forever.

Sports drama centred around the legendary 1980 Wimbledon duel between tennis champs Björn Borg and John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf).

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Directed by

Written by

Drama, Sport, World Cinema

107mins

Rating: M Offensive language & nudity

Sweden, Denmark, Finland

Aaron-Yap2

Aaron Yap

flicks

It’s not hard to see why the 1980 Wimbledon clash between Björn Borg and John McEnroe would’ve made an attractive proposition for a sports flick. Universally considered one of the most electrifying showdowns ever to grace a tennis court, the rivalry suggests a clear-cut, ready-made dramatic powder keg. Borg (Sverrir Gudnason), a steely Swedish sensation coming off four consecutive Wimbledon wins, quietly seethes under the pressure of expectation, and the curse of victory. The perfect underdog, American McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) embodies all the raw, unpredictable talent of an up-and-comer. In its pitting of contrasting temperaments against each other, Borg vs. McEnroe is not unlike the tennis equivalent of Rush, Ron Howard’s similarly-‘70s-era racing drama that charted the battle between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

While obviously no substitute for being there in the moment, director Janus Metz’s hopped-up, montage-heavy staging of the final match works overtime to send the viewer into a tizzy, especially for those who aren’t aware of the outcome. The off-the-court stuff can be a bit prosaic, prone to standard biopic issues: momentum-sapping episodic plotting, flashback-driven psychological unpacking. And the film never quite justifies the grandiose Andre Agassi quote that opens it: “every match is a life in miniature”. But Borg vs. McEnroe remains watchable on the strength of its leads, who’re effective beyond the uncanny physical likeness to their real-life counterparts. Gudnason discovers flakes of vulnerability underneath the unwavering stillness of the “Ice Borg”. McEnroe’s “unsportsmanlike behaviour” is a no-brainer fit for LaBeouf, who attacks the tennis enfant terrible’s profanity-filled, racket-throwing antics with gusto. Rooting for an asshole has rarely been this easy.

FilmInk (Australia)

press

More interested in what’s going on in the heads of the protagonists rather than on the court between them, and is all the more satisfying for that.

TimeOut (London)

press

The final match is an absolute nail-biter, reminding tennis fans how electric this sport can be.

Total Film (UK)

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A superior sports biopic with a never-better LaBeouf? You cannot be serious! But it only fully gets to grips with the ice-cool Swede.

Empire (UK)

press

A sports film with an arthouse sensibility. It benefits greatly from its chosen subject matter - two of the most remarkable characters in sporting history - but only manages to truly get under the skin of one of them.

Hollywood Reporter

press

Though it never justifies the overblown Andre Agassi quote used as its preface ("every match is a life in miniature"), the picture certainly shows how a single match can be made to feel like the world depends on it.

Variety (USA)

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Playing tennis may not seem the best use of Shia LaBeouf's talents, but the star is terrific in a role that shrewdly plays off his controversial off-screen persona.

The Guardian (UK)

press

This tennis film feels like a two-hour baseline rally, and it's not just the rackets that are made of wood.

Stuff.co.nz (Sarah Watt)

press

Not just one of the most exhilarating sports movies in recent years, but a fascinating psychological profile of two legendary men.