Borg Vs. McEnroe (2018)
Critic Consensus: Borg vs McEnroe makes tennis improbably cinematic -- and brings the absolute best out of Shia LaBeouf, who delivers some of the best work of his career.
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Critic Reviews for Borg Vs. McEnroe
A psychological portrait of competition, friendship and a complicated, temperamental prodigy, whose outbursts and lack of self-control threaten to derail what promises to be a fruitful athletic career.
"Borg vs. McEnroe" is an anecdotally gratifying, psychologically nuanced, and dramatically agile character study of Borg, but, despite its extended depictions of a celebrated match, it's not a satisfying tennis movie at all.
It's about damn time somebody made a movie outta these guys.
By the end, even the flaws become, if not entirely justifiable, then at least intelligible.
Danish documentarian Janus Metz-making his first feature, and working from a script by Ronnie Sandahl-feels the need to hold our hands and oversimplify these two titans of tennis.
Audience Reviews for Borg Vs. McEnroe
Much like in I, Tonya, director Janus Metz and writer Ronnie Sandahl seem keen to explore the fact the sport around which their movie centers is not all about winning, but more the way in which people win. Unlike that biopic though, Borg vs McEnroe is never truly able to find its groove despite clearly wanting to be a meditative character study. The psychological aspects are undoubtedly fascinating, but these figures and their story should also be more captivating than what is presented in this informative if not necessarily entertaining piece.
MENACE, ANYONE? - My Review of BORG VS. MCENROE (3 1//2 Stars) Do you prefer your anger quiet or seething? BORG VS. McENROE, the debut feature of documentarian Janus Metz, who along with writer Ronnie Sandahl, explore rage, passion and isolation under the guise of a famous 1980 tennis match between the Swedish 4-time reigning Wimbledon World champ and the unhinged American upstart who would stake his own claim in the sport. Although the results land clearly in the mixed category, this somewhat thin, overextended film captures something psychologically thrilling. Shia LaBeouf, an actor not known for a real-life gentle demeanor, may not resemble McEnroe, but he perfectly embodies the loudest, most aggressive player the sport has ever seen. Moreover, LaBeouf finds McEnroe's little boy charm, innocence and also his fiery passion for the sport. This represents, by far, the best film performance he has yet to give. Sverrir Gudnason, strangely enough, has the trickier role as Borg, who despite his famously icy demeanor, experienced his own rage as a young man. It's also a remarkable performance of very little dialogue but still filled with a wealth of intensity. While both characters get their fill of flashbacks, the filmmakers skimp on the details and instead stay focused on the concentration and loneliness the sport requires to earn that number one spot. Interestingly enough, Borg's own teen son Leo plays him as a young man who rails against his father (an excellent Stellan Skarsgård) and feverishly lobs tennis balls against the family garage. The spitting image of his father, Leo Borg does well with some of the film's more heavyweight emotional lifting. Tuva Novotny, last seen in ANNIHILATION, also makes an impression as Borg's first wife Mariana, who tries valiantly to understand her fairly impenetrable husband. In fact, the people who seem to understand each other best, our title character, remain almost complete strangers to each other throughout the film. Metz and Sandahl have found terrifically cinematic ways to communicate this trick bond between the rivals. It culminates in a sweetly understated scene which brought me to tears with the subtle way they communicate with each other. Oddly enough, last year's BATTLE OF THE SEXES, about the famous exhibition match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, had more dramatic stakes. The fate of womens' roles in society hanged in the balance. BORG VS. McENROE has a more interior approach, carrying the audience along beat by beat as each man summons up every bit of their strength to succeed. The last half of the film consists entirely of their battle, allowing the filmmakers to pull out every montage trick in the book. It also allows for a wonderful plethora of sports commentary, adding much-needed humor to the proceedings. Technically, except for the big match, the film stays tight on our protagonists. Cinematographer Niels Thastum leans in on a docu-style approach to filming, allowing for subtle dramatic scenes and loving recreations. All of McEnroe's outbursts feel genuine and not the work of an actor showboating. Borg's hard stare in close-ups feels rich and pained. You have to read a lot more into the film than what it gives you externally. It's beautiful and intense, but just not very deep.
It's without question that sports dramas that are based on true stories usually have a nice emotional core or intensity to them, otherwise what would be the point of making them in the first place. Borg/McEnroe is one of the latest true stories centered around a sport to receive the big screen treatment. Also seeing the return of Shia LaBeouf in a committed role, this movie has a lot going for it that had me excited. Happily, I can say that this is a movie made with care and the overall impact of the film is felt by the time the credits roll. I truly believe that a little bit of everyone out in the world can compare themselves to certain aspects of the two title characters. Although this movie is very small in terms of its theatre count, here's why I believe it deserves your time. As the film leads up to the inevitable Wimbledon finals in the year 1980, Borg/McEnroe follows Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe as it dives into their past and how they may or may not be able to cope with losing the title match in the coming days. This is a very simplistic film that follows these two competitors as they await the match, and then the movie goes out with a bang in keeping you on the edge of your seat as you await the victor. This is also where I found my biggest complaint with the film, seeing as its runtime was a little long for its type of storytelling. Even at a mere 107 minutes, this movie felt a little long, due to the fact that you're really just waiting for the day to come where these two competitors will be going head to head. It felt as though the flashbacks were there to give this film a real feature length feel, but in reality, it ended up feeling like filler. That being said, Borg/McEnroe manages to hold your interest, because each and every one of the flashbacks are interesting (even if it's slightly boring at times). I truly believe that this movie is able to hold everyone's attention because Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf give terrific performances here. Being the first time I've seen Sverrir Gudnason on-screen, I can't wait to see more of him, because not only did he look just like Bjorn Borg, but his committed performance really took his character over the edge in my opinion. LaBeouf definitely holds his own as well. Being absent from cinema for the past few years, it was uncertain when his return would be, but I think he will have a perfect fit in independent films such as Borg/McEnroe. His eccentric character got a few laughs and a few tears from the audience and when an actor can accomplish both, he, along with the filmmakers, have done something right. Although not really known for anything mainstream yet, writer Ronnie Sandahl and director Janus Metz definitely have bright futures if they choose to break out even further. The screenplay was very well-written in my opinion, giving just the right amount of levity before getting too serious, and then letting loose throughout the tense tennis sequences as well. I would love to see these two team up again. In the end, Borg/McEnroe is a very, very good film from start to finish. Although simplistic, emotion and tension run rampant throughout. Written and directed with care, acted spectacularly, and delivering a satisfying conclusion even for those who knew the outcome, I really don't have anything negative to say, aside from the fact that it can feel boring at times and a little dragged out to fit a feature film runtime. I recommend checking out Borg/McEnroe when you get the chance. It's a very solid story about two rivals that live very different lives, so to speak.
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