MOVIE REVIEW: Shia hits the mark as John McEnroe

Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason bears an uncanny resemblance to Bjorn Borg.
Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason bears an uncanny resemblance to Bjorn Borg.

IT'S a testament to the skills of Danish director Janus Metz Pedersen (True Detective) that this fictionalised account of the legendary 1980 Wimbledon men's singles final has you on the edge of your seat for its entire 100 minutes, even though the outcome is preordained.

Of course, it helps that Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf re-enact the intense rivalry between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe with such conviction, you'd swear that either one of them had the ability to rewrite the accepted version of events.

The two actors invest so much in the game they manage to persuade the audience they are playing each match point for real.

Gudnason's physical resemblance to Borg is uncanny and LaBeouf's unpredictable off-screen antics make him a good fit for the hot-headed McEnroe.

Loose cannon Shia LaBeouf makes for a perfect Superbrat in Borg vs McEnroe
Loose cannon Shia LaBeouf makes for a perfect Superbrat in Borg vs McEnroe

Unlike Battle Of the Sexes, the crowd-pleasing behind-the-scenes account of the 1973 exhibition match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), Borg vs. McEnroe plays out on cinema's version of centre court.

Screenwriter Ronnie Sandahl interweaves the two men's backstories to give some insight into how much each of them has at stake.

Early footage reveals the young Borg (Leo Borg) to have had more in common with tennis's superbrat than most people realise.

Before being mentored by former Swedish tennis champ Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgard), the five-time Wimbledon winner, who was nicknamed the Ice Borg for his calm on-court demeanour, was just as prone to racquet smashing and temper tantrums as his US nemesis.

Watching one of the preliminary matches in his hotel room, McEnroe sees the seething emotions Borg is channelling beneath that calm exterior, just as Borg is aware of the focus behind McEnroe's on-court outbursts.

Stellan Skarsgard plays Swedish tennis coach — and Borg’s mentor — Lennart Bergelin.
Stellan Skarsgard plays Swedish tennis coach — and Borg’s mentor — Lennart Bergelin.

No one understands them as well as they understand each other. They are opposite sides of the same coin.

While Borg is dismissed by Swedish tennis officials as being from the wrong side of the tracks, McEnroe is the product of hot-housing parents.

When the mathematically talented youngster (Jackson Gann) tells his mum he got 96 out of a 100 for an exam, she asks him what happened to the other four marks.

For both men, coming second is not an option.

There are some fun scenes at Studio 54 and for the most part, the filmmakers play each shot, just as Bergelin advises Borg to do.

This makes for a compelling and concentrated drama that doesn't waste a frame.

Opens in cinemas tomorrow.


Borg vs McEnroe

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Sverrir Gudnason, Stellan Skarsgard  

Director: Janus Metz Pedersen  

Rating: M  

Verdict: 3.5 stars  

Topics:  john mcenroe movie review movies shia labeouf

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