Directed by Janus Metz
Written by Ronnie Sandahl
The first feature for director Janus Metz is a generic film that doesn’t do much to help itself stand out from the pack. The story though rescues it from being simply average to above average. One’s interest in tennis though will surely be a factor. With a father who played for over 20 years and tried to teach me the game (I was taught the concepts well, but was simply crap at playing), we saw this together and both enjoyed the telling of a fantastic true story.
The contrast of the two characters is a constant, and this says a lot more than it seems. The stone-faced Borg doesn’t show any emotion in public, whereas McEnroe has never had any qualms about showing his emotions in front of snobby Wimbledon crowds. Soon we see that behind closed doors, it is a very different story for Borg.
We are taken back to his childhood, where it is revealed that he actually had a temper not unlike McEnroe, a temper that was iced by Swedish Davis Cup captain Lennart Bergelin, who took Borg under his wing to help him soar, and to use that anger in every stroke. But this bottled up emotion overflows when Borg realises the pressure he is under to win a fifth straight title.
The biggest flaw here is the imbalance in the character study; the film spends much, much more time examining Borg and his past. McEnroe, a very interesting character, is barely explored. The scenes Shia does have he chews up, playing the brash New Yorker with ease and humour. But the imbalance is very obvious.
However, what we learn about Borg is important and serves as a sturdy reminder that the events that happen in our childhood, the people we meet, the way we are treated by our parents, it all shapes the people we become as adults. Despite this welcome commentary, again, Shia should have been on-screen a lot more than he was.
Consequently we learn very little about Mac as a person – we already knew he had a hot temper, and we learn very little apart from this, though we do see his attitude to the game of tennis and his frustration with the media asking about his behaviour rather than his incredible serve-volley style of playing. And when it came to tennis, we see the lengths he was willing to go to win.
Unlike Borg, Mac embraced his emotions and let them fly, both positive and negative. Regarding the latter, while we see a few classic outbursts (“YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!!”), the film does a good job of limiting these moments, as it easily could have rested on the entertaining way Mac threw his tantrums rather than telling the story well.
This is a must watch for fans of tennis, or sport in general, despite its flaws. The two leads are near perfect in their recreation of two tennis legends, with Sverrir Gudnason especially looking incredibly similar to Borg. The climax – their battle at Wimbledon in 1980 – is excellently shot and considering the amount of game-play shown, the editing is top notch as it isn’t obvious when stunt doubles are used, and when they are, it is seamless, as if we are watching an actual tennis match. And if you don’t know how the story ends, the experience is even better.
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