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With: Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård, Tuva Novotny, Ian Blackman
Written by: Ronnie Sandahl
Directed by: Janus Metz
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, and some nudity
Running Time: 107
Date: 04/13/2018

Borg vs McEnroe (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Fable Tennis

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

While this sports movie skimps on details and seems a bit rushed in places, it nevertheless nicely balances its handling of two tennis champs, aided in no small part by the terrific lead performances.

In Borg vs McEnroe, it's 1980 and the Wimbledon tennis championship approaches. Swedish player Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) is a four-time world champ — the youngest in the tournament's history — and, if he wins a fifth time, it will be another world's record. Where Borg is cool-headed and imperturbable, his challenger is the hot-headed, badly-behaved American John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf).

As game day approaches, Borg considers his fame and his past with coach Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgård), who taught Borg to suppress his own temper. Meanwhile, McEnroe deals with his infamous image and his own past as an exceptional student, while obsessively mapping out the tournament on his hotel wall. The match itself, with these two polar opposites at the peak of their skills, is set to become one of the greatest ever played. But who will win?

Director Janus Metz has created a true international production, with characters speaking their own languages, translated by subtitles, and so Borg vs McEnroe feels like a bigger movie than it really is. It's betrayed somewhat by hand-held cinematography and choppy editing, where a little more patience could have yielded more beauty.

The most glaring example, the final game, is likewise a bit hectic, when there was a chance to slow it down and demonstrate just why it's considered perhaps the greatest game in Wimbledon history. As it is, Metz misses some of the poetry, using the scoreboard and commentary from the announcers to explain the epic proportions of the game.

The movie's best achievement is to convince us that the actors are actually as good as the real-life champs; there is never a slip or a trick that is exposed. As it goes on, the movie's picture of these two players as polar opposites begins to cast its own spell, and when it comes down to just the two of them — the only two who can understand one another — Borg vs McEnroe can be quite moving.

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