Borg vs McEnroe: A biopic account of the greatest tennis match in history that fails to match to spectacle of the source material


​Sport is always a tough sell in movies, particularly when you're dealing with the greats. Will Smith never quite captured Muhammad Ali's brilliance, while the less said about Matt Damon in Invictus the better.

The gladiatorial aspects of tennis are a little more screen friendly, however, and Borg Vs McEnroe seems particularly suited. Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf play the men in question, both dealing with their brilliance in different ways in the build up to their seminal 1980 Wimbledon Men's Final.

Told in a low-key, arthouse manner, director Janus Metz Pedersen takes us back to a time when winning was everything, and personalities took centre court. The sport itself plays second fiddle to the psychology of the two rivals, showing the similarities and differences in a way that's interesting, if a little bit academic.

The star of the movie is Gudnason's Borg, partly because of his performance but equally because of the attention lavished on him. The Swede is shown to be conflicted, inwardly similar to his rival but having chosen to deal with his demons a different way. Pedersen is clearly far more interested in a character struggling to rein in his competitive impulses rather than a man controlled by them. As a solo Borg biopic it would have been perfect, but given it's dual headline nature the narrative can often feel too focused in one direction.

Then there's Mr LaBeouf. If ever a casting seemed like a natural fit, it's the bad boy of tennis played by Hollywood's most high profile trainwreck. As McEnroe, the actor may not be a doppelganger but gets it right where it counts, capturing the sportsman's volatility, passion and drive in a way that feels very authentic. It's a shame that his performance isn't given as much of a spotlight as that of his counterpart. Lifestyle and family issues are glossed over in a few scenes in favour of hyperbole. We see the tantrums, but only glimpse the reasons behind them.

The climatic showdown, like everything that precedes it, is entertaining enough. That's damningly faint praise for a film about such an exciting moment in sports history however, and something that doesn't match the exacting standards of the men it portrays. Borg Vs McEnroe is likely to delight only those who know the story back to front already. Newcomers may be better served watching a handful of Youtube clips.