“Borg vs McEnroe” is a surprisingly cinematic film which is much prettier than it has any right to be. Colours pop off the screen and strike you with their clarity, although at times the artificially enhanced visuals can take away from the fact that this is a movie designed to interpret true events.
This is an accomplished film with much to enjoy, but there’s a sense in which the technical aspects have to be exceptional in order to make up for a limited narrative. Whilst screenwriter Ronnie Sandahl does well to focus on the mental side of tennis and the pressure that success brings, the margins that this movie sets itself are inescapable. It’s a well-made film with many positive features, but the experience as a whole is very samey.
Nothing stands out beyond the presentation because the story is narrow and ultimately predictable regardless of whether or not you’re familiar with what happened in real life, so it can be difficult to feel invested in the narrative.
Thankfully, “Borg vs McEnroe” boasts strong performances and thus remains compelling in spite of its flaws, although I would’ve liked Sandahl to explore the psychological conflict at the heart of the titular characters in a more inventive manner.
The characters in this film are developed mainly through exposition and flashbacks; these writing tools are tired and contrived and their inclusion can make the film feel lazy. Mainstream audiences aren’t likely to recognise the shortcuts that the script takes when using these plot devices but that doesn’t make them any less frustrating from my perspective.
There are also points at which certain characters can seem slightly exaggerated which takes away from the realism of a story which is inspired by true events. However, because Shai LaBeouf (McEnroe) and Sverrir Gudnason (Borg) capture the basic flavour of their real-life counterparts this issue is somewhat mollified. The dynamic between the ice-cool Borg and the hot-headed McEnroe is interesting and I appreciated the fact that the two were kept separate for large periods; this made their personalities clear before they were thrust together in the movie’s final act and allowed their characters to feel properly realised.
In summary, “Borg vs McEnroe” is a limited but well-presented film with good performances and a fascinating real-life story. Framing the narrative around the psychological struggle of being a top sportsman was a smart decision and I enjoyed the movie for what it was, but I felt it could’ve been improved with a few careful tweaks. I would happily recommend it to mainstream audiences and I think that it’s a much better film than its lack of meaningful marketing would suggest, but it wasn’t creative enough to be a great movie.