The legendary rivalry between tennis players Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) and John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) was insane while it was happening. I’m old enough to remember it—and Janus Metz’s Borg vs McEnroe does a pretty good job of reliving it.
The film does suffer due to the fact that Björn Borg was a pretty boring figure, as opposed to the fiery McEnroe. Since much of this film deals with Borg’s side of the story, a good chunk of the film winds up being … well, boring.
Such is not the case with the McEnroe side: LaBeouf turns in his best performance yet as the temper-tantrum-throwing American sports star who came rolling into Wimbledon to face off against four-time champion Borg. LaBeouf takes an historical figure in McEnroe and avoids caricature in a role that could so easily become cartoonish. He finds the human competitor at the core of McEnroe, and while LaBeouf can deliver a very mighty, “You can’t be serious!” he finds a lot of sensible levels in the man.
The match itself is all kinds of crazy, and since I forgot what the outcome was, it’s completely unpredictable. The circumstances of that particular sporting event are as intense as any sporting event in the last 50 years, and the film works as a nice time stamp.
Much credit goes to the wig department for making the two actors look pretty authentic. Gudnason does well as Borg, but it’s LaBeouf who steals the movie.
Borg vs McEnroe is now playing at Mary Pickford is D’Place (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100) and the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033). It’s also available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.