A song of ice and fire…

Total Film - - Contents - Jor­dan Far­ley

The American ten­nis leg­end ver­sus Star Trek’s cy­ber­netic vil­lains. No, we can­not be se­ri­ous.

CER­TIFI­CATE 15tbc DI­REC­TOR Janus metz Star­ring Shia LaBeouf, Sver­rir gud­na­son, Stel­lan Skars­gård SCREEN­PLAY ron­nie San­dahl DIS­TRIB­U­TOR cur­zon Ar­ti­fi­cial eye RUN­NING TIME 107 mins

Call­ing Borg/McEn­roe the first truly great ten­nis movie may seem like damn­ing with faint praise con­sid­er­ing the com­pe­ti­tion – Paul Bet­tany/ Kirsten Dunst rom­com Wim­ble­don (2004) and… er, that’s about it. But it’s a state­ment meant at face value.

Ex­plor­ing the ri­valry be­tween im­per­turbable world num­ber one Björn Borg and volatile con­tender, John McEn­roe, in the lead-up to their leg­endary 1980 Wim­ble­don fi­nal, it’s a clash of the ten­nis ti­tans that’s in­fat­u­ated with the for­ma­tive psy­chol­ogy of sport­ing icons off the court. In 1980, Björn Borg (Sver­rir Gud­na­son) was at the top of his game,

and on course to win a record fifth con­sec­u­tive Wim­ble­don ti­tle. But be­hind the sweat bands it was a dif­fer­ent story. Pre-match su­per­sti­tions in­creas­ingly alien­ate his near­est and dear­est, while sup­pressed child­hood anger is­sues threaten to de­rail Borg’s dominance of the sport he’s ded­i­cated his life to. In con­trast, McEn­roe (Shia LaBeouf) is a fire­cracker. Wear­ing his heart on his sleeve, his ex­plo­sive tantrums make him an easy tar­get for the con­tro­versy-hun­gry me­dia and public, who de­light in openly boo­ing him. The pair are per­fectly matched com­bat­ants – the base­line player and the net rusher, the hot-headed American and ni­tro­gen-cool Swede, the Ice Borg and the Su­per Brat.

Di­rec­tor Janus Metz (Ar­madillo) has pre­vi­ous form with the all-time-great ten­nis ri­valry: he helmed an episode of ’90s doc­u­men­tary se­ries Clash Of The Ti­tans on Borg and McEn­roe, and re­unites with writer Ron­nie San­dahl for a film that lasers in on the mo­ments that made the men. The movie jumps back and forth be­tween the 1980 Wim­ble­don cham­pi­onship and the pair in their youth: Borg is seen learn­ing to keep his ca­reer-threat­en­ing tem­per un­der con­trol, while the source of McEn­roe’s rage is left to fester. The the­sis: maybe the fa­mous ri­vals aren’t so dif­fer­ent af­ter all.

It’s a com­pelling case study, and ef­fec­tively bur­rows un­der the skin of Borg in par­tic­u­lar. Me­thod­i­cally paced and shot, it per­fectly strad­dles a line be­tween art­house sen­si­bil­ity and main­stream sub­ject mat­ter, with the match of the cen­tury pro­vid­ing a racket-string-tense cli­max.

But there’s a rea­son why Borg comes first in that di­choto­mous ti­tle. San­dahl and Metz are en­am­oured with their Scandi cousin at McEn­roe’s ex­pense, ded­i­cat­ing a much meatier chunk of screen­time to the Swede. And sops to the ten­nis-obliv­i­ous can come across as pa­tro­n­is­ing.

Not quite a Grand Slam then, but ace nonethe­less.


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.

they were both still stunned that paul bet­tany hadn’t made the fi­nal…

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