The start of the Open Era of tennis helped the sport spread globally and has produced some of the most competitive sporting rivalries of all time, Bjorn Borg’s (Sverrir Gudnason) encounters with John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) being regarded as one of the fiercest.
Borg McEnroe briefly begins with an introduction into the infamous match between the two players that took place in the 1980 Wimbledon Final. Throughout the 1970s, Borg had established himself as the best tennis player in the world and in 1980 he was chasing a record fifth consecutive Wimbledon title. After the short preface, the audience is told the story of each player’s respective journey to the final with interwoven flashbacks into their childhood, revealing how the two became the icons they are. Even though the film focuses on two biographical lives it isn’t difficult to follow. Along the way we see both men struggle with pressure, Borg with the expectation to succeed and maintain his celebrity status and McEnroe with his aggressive nature and its reception amongst the media and fans of tennis.
Just as the open era of tennis enabled the sport to become more accessible to viewers, so does the film. Though it is a Swedish production and a large proportion of the scenes are spoken in this language, the film is also multilingual and English features prominently. This allows the film to appeal to a global audience however, the film itself is not an overly thrilling or entertaining watch, unlike the fated tennis duel between the two masters. Apart from the device of following the lives of two characters, the plot is told in a rather conventional way and both director Janus Metz Pedersen and writer Ronnie Sandahl do not seem to try and do anything different from what audiences expect from biographical films. Flashbacks are combined with the players repetitively watching each other’s matches and cliched intimate scenes that even include young Borg, played by the tennis star’s real-life son, stating he wants to become the best player in the world. The 1980 Wimbledon Final is recounted as a montage of the best bits from the match accompanied with pulsing electric music; however, this moment is told in a bristling pace that is unable to craft tension.
The best aspect of Borg McEnroe are the performances of the central characters. Sverrir Gudnason captures the gentle nature of Borg but also shows that Borg isn’t immune to pressures in his life. Shia LaBeouf makes the perfect ‘Super Brat’ and displays accurately McEnroe’s temperament and his journey to control it.
Despite strong performances from Gudnason and LaBeouf which culminate in a humble moment of respect Borg McEnroe is not as enthralling as one might hope, and this scene could have meant so much more had there been an earnest attempt to get the audience emotionally invested. Though this film attempts to excite viewers with the drama leading up to the 1980 Wimbledon Final, the actual match itself makes for a more engrossing experience.