VIFF: Borg Vs. McEnroe perfectly captures the brutal dedication of athletes

Most of the time, sports movies tend to be cliché, overproduced piles of trash trying too hard to be the next Friday Night Lights or Hoosiers. While it’s great to watch a good old fashioned underdog story every now and then, it gets old pretty quick. Borg Vs. McEnroe set out to change that and nailed it.

For context, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe were two of the biggest names in tennis in the late 70’s and 80’s. Borg – a native of Sweden – was known for being a calm and composed player who won title after title while dominating his opposition. McEnroe, an American out of New York City, was more famous for his on-field antics and unpredictable temper than his seven Grand Slam wins and five Davis Cup victories.

The two stars stole the limelight at the turn of the decade, as McEnroe was seen as the only player who could challenge Borg for a major title. Their rivalry began with the 1980 Wimbledon Championships, where the two met in the highly anticipated final in what was regarded to be as one of the greatest matches ever played. The movie focuses on their growing rivalry with flashbacks to each star’s younger self before culminating in their historic 1980 match.

McEnroe is played by the equally eccentric Shia Labeouf. By Hollywood standards, he’s as eccentric and impulsive as you can get, which is why he was perfect for the role. The one downside is that – since it’s a Swedish movie – there was more emphasis placed on Borg as opposed to McEnroe. While not to undercut equally good performances by Swedish actors Sverrir Gudnason, who plays Borg, and Stellan Skarsgård, who plays Borg’s long time coach Lennart Bergelin, it’s a shame that there wasn’t more of a balance between the two.

Asside from the acting, the film employs more of a minimalistic approach to shooting and uses unorthodox angles, such as overhead and low-hanging shots for actual scenes with tennis.

Scenes where McEnroe or Borg are playing are kept in real time with the breaks in between each play included to help create a more authentic style of suspense, almost putting you in the stands as a spectator.

The best part of the film has to be the way it successfully portrays the mindset of the athlete. One of the main goals of the film is to put the viewer in the minds of the calm, calculated and ritual-based athlete Borg and the impulsive, explosive, but passionate player McEnroe.

Accurately portraying the lengths that professional athletes will go to be the best and the limits they pass with their bodies is by far the hardest thing for a sports movie to get right. Luckily Borg Vs. McEnroe gets it perfect.

So if you’re going to watch one sports flick this year, do yourself a favour and make it this one.