Star – Shia Lebouf
My Rating 3/5
Genre – Biopic/Drama
Run Time – 1 Hr 47 Minutes.
Certificate – 18
Country – Sweden/Denmark (English language)
Golden Globes – 0
Awards – 7 Wins & 13 nominations
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One of the great rivalries in tennis was Borg v McEnroe, matches that actually got people like me interested in a pretty elite sport, the introverted beautiful Swede against the brash New Yorker. One was cold and superstitious to the point of obsessive, the other out partying and having fun every other night. Borg would insist on his hotel/room temperature being 12 degrees, where ever he was in the world and would not sleep until his heart beat slowed to 50 b.p.m. He insisted his parents wore the same clothes every round at his big matches and he would stay in the same hotel room and use the same courtesy car every day of the events.
They met 14 times in their career, 7 wins each, and Borg’s shock early retirement at age 26 seeing those matches over just a three year period between 1978 and 81. Borg would win 15 slams and McEnroe just 7, both Borg and McEnroe missing out on the Australian open and JP never getting a French Open title. Mac beat Borg in three of their four slam finals, but only after the thrilling Wimbledon final of 1980.
The film concentrates on the buildup to that infamous 1980 Final, Borg already four straight Wimbledon’s in the bag, McEnroe desperate to dethrone him for good at the home of tennis, and on grass. Borg was at his peak but many felt this was the match that would decide who would dominate tennis thereafter. McEnroe had actually beaten Borg 7 times out of 8 before it, be it mostly on mixed services, the 1980 Wimbledon Final their first Slam meeting on any surface. Six more meetings in the next year would see Borg retire when Johnny Mac beat him in the 1981 US Open Final, 6 weeks after beating him at the 1981 Wimbledon Final. Borg knew he would no longer be the outright best and just walked away in 1982.
Sverrir Gudnason … Björn Borg
Shia LaBeouf … John McEnroe
Stellan Skarsgård … Lennart Bergelin
Tuva Novotny … Mariana Simionescu
Leo Borg … Young Björn Borg – Age 9-13
Marcus Mossberg … Young Björn Borg – Age 15+
Jackson Gann Jackson Gann … Young John McEnroe
Scott Arthur Scott Arthur … Peter Fleming
Ian Blackman Ian Blackman … John McEnroe Senior
Robert Emms Robert Emms … Vitas Gerulaitis
David Bamber David Bamber … UK Commentator George Barnes
Mats Blomgren Mats Blomgren … Rune Borg
Julia Marko-Nord Julia Marko-Nord … Margareta Borg (as Julia Marko Nord)
Jane Perry Jane Perry … Kay McEnroe
John McEnroe: ”You can’t be serious! You cannot be serious! The ball was on the line! Chalk flew all over, man. The chalk flew up! He saw it. That’s why he’s walking all over it. Everyone saw it was in. You cannot possibly call that out…
We pick up the journey with some back-story on little 9-year-old Borg (played by the real Borg’s son Leo) , determined to be great at tennis but temperamental in an unlike Swedish way on court, his behavior getting him kicked out of the top tennis club. But Sweden’s most successful player and now a top coach, Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgård), sees something in the kid and trains him at the national center in Stockholm. Borg is still angry out there but as his 15th birthday ticks past, teenage Borg (Marcus Mossberg) is considered for Davis Cup for the match with NZ in the dead singles rubber, the youngest male player to this day to play for Sweden.
Back in the present and Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) is anxious about the up-and-coming Wimbledon, his relationship strained with his wife to be Mariana Simionescu (Tuva Novotny), and a record five Wimbledon’s in a row weighing heavy, agents, coaches and hangers-on pulling a him from all directions.
McEnroe is from a Middle class Manhattan Jewish family and very much the brat of the litter, a bit of a math’s prodigy as a kid and able to use that math to perfect his tennis angles, much preferring pinball machines, Studio 54 and drinking to hard work in practice.
Borg and McEnroe move through the rounds of the 1980 Wimbledon Championship as one and two seeds, destined to meet in the final. Mac knows if he can end the run he can be the world number one, Borg knowing deep down nothing else but perfection will do and perfection to maintain. Something’s got to give in the titanic final.
It’s not too bad but with a simple approach to the rivalry, and indifferent casting, it kind of loses an opportunity to be something better. It becomes more Borg’s story as Sverrir Gudnason actually looks like Borg and acts like Borg, rather than about the rivalry, Shia Lebouf there for the money. Three inches smaller than the real Johnny Mac, Labeouf looks more like Pauly Shore with his funny bubble perm and gated walk than a top tennis player. But without a big star like him on board the film would still be on the shelf now, the same way Coe v Ovett stands after Daniel Radcliff dropped out. Stellan Skarsgård as Borg’s fatherly coach brings some gravitas to the piece.
It did well in the Scandinavian countries film festivals but not particularly anywhere else, its healthy budget for the region of $7.5m bringing back just $3 million. It’s not the sort of thing that gets made into a sports movie outside of America, very much TV movie territory. Although Wimbledon is used for some scenes the bits that are not Wimbledon Center Court stickout like a saw thumb, like using Astroturf and a doubles net for the Singles Final.
The actually tennis scenes are underwhelming so don’t buy it for that. The relationship between the two is no really explored and falls flat here. Where it earns its money is for Sverrir Gudnason performance for the icy Swede. Borg’s coach banged into him as young lad not to show emotions and the actor does that bit well and very convincing to. Where it doesn’t really work is the dramatic side of things but as a character study perfectly fine. As I said, the Americans just do this stuff better.
Imdb.com7.0 /10.0 – (22,424votes)
Rottentomatos.com –84% critic’s approval
Metacritic.com – 63% critic’s approval