Updated: Jun 9, 2022
Streaming on Hulu
Starring: Shia LeBeouf and Sverrir Gudnason
I’ve never been a huge fan of tennis, but I’ll watch it when it’s on TV. When I do watch the sport, I’m usually extremely impressed with these athletes. I grew up playing mostly team sports, which is why I have a ton of respect for athletes who go out there alone and play head-to-head. The pressure is all on them! Tennis players are extremely focused and are great at keeping their composure throughout matches, even when they make a mistake or a call doesn’t go their way. Well...at least most of them keep their composure.
This film takes place in the year 1980 and is about the long awaited matchup of a composed, almost emotionless gentleman going up against a player that was constantly throwing tantrums, yelling, arguing, and cursing at the umpires. The gentleman is of course Björn Borg from Sweden (Sverrir Gudnason) and the tantrum thrower is the legendary American tennis player John McEnroe (Shia LeBeouf). In my opinion, both roles were perfectly cast.
Shia, much like McEnroe, is an unpredictable wild card and if you watch this film and compare it to real footage of McEnroe, it’s spooky how spot on it is. While athletes today like Conor McGregor act like trash talking idiots just to gain publicity, McEnroe genuinely just had a hard time keeping his composure sometimes. During press conferences he just wanted to discuss tennis, not his unfortunate reputation as the villain, or bad boy of tennis. Borg clearly had some OCD and felt a lot of pressure as the man to beat in tennis. Both of these people were just trying to deal with their own demons while the spotlight was making them out to be enemies, even though they had never met.
Much of the film focuses on Borg and the stress of being a 4-time Wimbledon champion looking for his 5th to become the king of tennis at such a young age. They show flash backs of each athlete when they were very young. Borg's childhood flashbacks show that he was once a lot like McEnroe. He showed a lot of emotion and unsportsmanlike behavior, while McEnroe’s flashbacks show that his family wanted him to focus more on academics instead of tennis. Different journeys lead both men to the biggest stage in tennis, resulting in one of the most historic match ups in the history of the sport. The camera angles and foreboding music, or sometimes lack of music, creates an extremely tense atmosphere that had me on the edge of my seat biting my fingernails, especially during the climax of the film. Well done, cinematographers!
If you like biopics and sports movies, this is definitely right up your ally. Shia LeBeouf continues to impress me by showing his acting range over the years. He’s come a long way since Holes and Transformers!
Also, if you want to watch a hilarious mockumentary about tennis that kind of used this true story as inspiration check out 7 Days in Hell on HBO Now, starring Andy Samberg and Kit Harington!