A couple of years into his exile from a Hollywood that kept tasking him with anchoring charmless blockbusters, Shia LaBeouf at last has a showcase suited to his talent for parsing and processing anger. Playing John McEnroe in Janus Metz’s Borg vs. McEnroe, LaBeouf fully exhibits a wounded, soulful rage that, in retrospect, can be seen simmering beneath the surface of many of his earlier performances. Each sputtered "fuck" seems to explode right from the gut, even as each also is precise and weighted in its meaning and impact. Too bad, then, that the movie has little to say about McEnroe, Bjorn Borg or tennis.
Sverrir Gudnason’s Borg, the Swede who in 1980 was looking to win his record-breaking fifth Wimbledon championship, was touted as the passionless gentleman of tennis; young McEnroe was its filthy-mouthed rebel. Rather than complicate those caricatures, the moody Borg vs. McEnroe freights them with backstory. Turns out that implacable Borg seethes with rage and anxiety but was told years before by his coach (Stellan Skarsgard) never to show emotion on the court. And McEnroe, you see, was forever trying to please a father who always demanded more.
The film, like the sports press at the time, finds the champ and the upstart on a collision course at Wimbledon. The stakes are just that: Will the old pro win yet again or will the young buck score the first of what will likely be many championships to come? The final match, in which we never get to see a volleyed point play out without several cuts, seems to turn not on athleticism or grit but on which player will be most motivated by his pained flashbacks.
Janus Metz PedersenShia LaBeouf, Sverrir Gudnason, Stellan Skarsgård, David Bamber, Tuva Novotny, Claes Ljungmark, Jane Perry, Robert Emms, Demetri Goritsas, Colin StintonJanus Metz PedersenNeon