Borg vs McEnroe Movie Review: Bjorn-McEnroe Rivalry Doesn’t Quite Grip!

Bjorn Versus McEnroe

Starring: Sverrir GudansonShia LaBeouf

Directed by: Janus Metz

Rating: ** ½(2 and a half stars)

The best  of intentions and  impeccable casting do not compensate for a lack of vitality in this well-mounted but finally unfulfilling true-life saga  about the legendary rivalry on the field  between the two tennis legends.

 Director Janus Metz has cast well. Shia La Beouf was born to play McEnroe. He  is everything that McEnroe should be—impetuous,  hot-headed, impatient  on the field and anenfant terrible , quite tangibly ‘Tennis, the Menace’—and then some  more.Very often the distance between the actor and the role blurs here.

I don’t know if that’s a good thing in a bio-pic that purports to open two lives that played each other out in full public view.

It’s the Swedish actor Sverrir Gudanson as Bjorn who really pins down the plot,  and gives the film a bearing of intimidating intimacy. Because of  Gudanson’s performance many times I felt I  was getting close to knowing the  real  Bjorn(whom I don’t know at all in any capacity), his frightening self-discipline and superstitious nature bordering on a psychotic attachment to order and neatness.

 But then the narrative  pulls back.

 Sad to say  we are never allowed to know either of  the two tennis players beyond what is already in  the public domain. Bjorn’s fits of ill temper are  not for public consumption. John’s are. But  in the film we don’t get to  know either.It’s  almost as  if   the  director willed  an aloofness  for his two protagonists. They come  to us as  intensely private people forced to live acutely  public lives.Which is probably what the reality was. But as cinema,  it simply sucks when you can’t get to know the heroes beyond their public image.

 In that sense this  film is  no different  from the other notable sagas on the  perils  of stardom. What keeps us glued to the mounting tension of this  sportive saga written into the raga of rivalry are the  performances , not just the two protagonists, but also the distinguished StellanSkarsgard as  Bjorn’s lifelong coach and Tuva Novotny as  his girlfriend.

Alas, Bjorn speaks  only in Swedish to the people  close to him, thereby creating another level of alienation with the audience. There should have been a  lot more on  the two tennis legends’ past. What we get are cursory  scenes  from their childhood and teens played out with a complete absence  of warmth or tenderness.

McEnroe’s  father goading his little son to show his skills at mathematical  numbers in front of dinner guests  and a teenaged Bjorn raging in the forest  just make us wonder why people who excel in life are allowed  to get away with asocial behaviour.

This  is  a  story  that was waiting to be told.  Now that  it’s here we  can only approach its unapproachable protagonists with  a feelling of wistful  yearning. If only the two  protagonists were as expressive as the actors who play them!

The tennis played by Gudanson and  LaBeouf is  as good as Sushant Singh Rajput’s  cricket in Dhoni.But  you don’t have to like tennis to watch this film. If you like the idea of  two very accomplished actors struggling to  give a relevance to their characters beyond the script , this is  your movie date.

For the more comprehensive Bjorn/McEnroe bio-pic, please wait.

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