Director Janus Metz’ clash of the tennis titans presents its flaws early: amped grandeur (“every match is a life in miniature”), an overbearing soundtrack, too much made of its heroes’ interior lives while too little is revealed about their actual gameplay, and a tendency to tell what it could just as easily show. But as his dual portrait of four-time Wimbledon champion Björn Borg and a coming-for-the-throne John McEnroe makes its deliberate way toward their eventual showdown, compensatory virtues come to the fore: a fine eye for the visual possibilities of his subject, a clear focus on what its like to be driven as opposed to what drives, and thoroughly engaging performances from Sverrir Gudnason as Borg and Shia LaBeouf as McEnroe. It helps if you’ve forgotten (or never learned) the outcome of their meetup in the 1980 Finals; there’s no clear underdog and no clear hero — and not even a real choice between The Gentleman and The Rebel, despite the media storyline — so the contest offers some relatively pure drama alongside the innovative presentation. By the end, even the flaws become, if not entirely justifiable, then at least intelligible.
Length: 1 hour, 47 minutes