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VIFF 2017: Borg vs. McEnroe

Review by Laura Johnston

Borg vs. McEnroe

dir. Janus Metz Pedersen

Borg vs. McEnroe is the perfect sports film for people who may not usually gravitate towards sports films, and its value all comes down to the cinematography of the final tennis match.

Janus Metz’ film Borg vs. McEnroe features a talented cast including Shia LaBeouf (McEnroe) Sverrir Gudnason (Borg) and Stellan Skarsgård (Trainer). The film follows the two young men as the audience gains insight into how they became so successful in their sport. For those who were alive to witness these athletes’ performances in the ’70s and ’80s when they were at their peak, the film connects the New Yorker and the Swede in a way that may be unexpected, as they were consistently painted as polar opposites in the media: one the calm and robotic gentleman, and one the emotional bratty kid. The film follows the two men as they train for the Wimbledon final in 1980. Through flashbacks to Borg and McEnroe as children, the audience fills in the context of how their respective personalities formed, and how perhaps they’re not so different after all.

Niels Thastum did an incredible job with this film’s cinematography, and it pairs extremely well with Metz’ direction. Metz’ background in documentary filmmaking informs the way the story of Borg and McEnroe unfolds. The film perfectly portrays the saying “the grass is always greener on the other side” as the audience watches Borg and McEnroe observe each other, and their private and public personas. Where no one controlled Borg as a child, leading him to a breaking point that he crafted his ultra-robotic personality from, John McEnroe was extremely controlled as a child, leading him to lash out and not be able to control his emotions as an adult.

The parallels and subtleties linking the two men are explored beautifully and tenderly, all while an exceptional 80s soundtrack plays. The final match was the climax and highlight of the film and Metz managed to make the audience feel like they were truly there, not even just watching a game on TV.

The only thing that threw me off was the ending of the film, when in cheesy-documentary style the director chose to put in photos and slides explaining the outcome of the athlete’s lives in a “where-are-they-now” sort of way. I understand the film was geared toward an artsier sports crowd, but it felt a little contrived and I felt that it would have been just as satisfying of an ending without the slides.

Overall, it was an outstanding look into the gruelling lives of elite athletes, and a unique look at the piece of history that is Borg and McEnroe’s iconic Wimbledon final in 1980. I’d recommend this film to tennis fans and people interested in a simple and deeply human story alike.


The LINK Magazine team had the opportunity to check out a few films during the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival. Check back here for more reviews and interviews with some of the VIFF filmmakers!