It's not exactly doubles tennis, but the 2017 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival features two highly anticipated tennis dramas, and one of them -- Borg/McEnroe -- kicks the fest off with athletic ambition this evening. Chronicling the 1980 Wimbledon match between tennis titans Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. And in the process, director Janus Metz hands volatile actor Shia LaBeouf a perfect role.
Let's set the table a little. In 1980, Swedish tennis sensation Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) was chasing his fifth straight Wimbledon title, a first. To get there, Borg had to go through up-and-coming U.S. star John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf), whose hostile temperament and rock-and-roll approach to the game couldn't have been more contradictory to Borg's robotic precision. Janus Metz's textbook sports-rivalry drama Borg/McEnroe spends more time analyzing the backstory of his icy champion, Borg, even though the far more interesting player in this drama is McEnroe, and the fascinating parallels that LaBeouf brings to the part.
Seeing as how I was a pup when these two tennis titans were going head to head, I have to trust a decent amount of how Borg and McEnroe are portrayed, and it's in that nuance that Shia LaBeouf finds his entranceway into the unpredictable Johnny Mack. No matter how successful McEnroe was on the court, he was overshadowed by the reputation of his short-temper. Tennis novices will know of McEnroe's penchant for blowing up at refs for what he deemed as bad calls. And in a "civilized" sport like tennis -- especially on a grand court like Wimbledon -- the way that he approached his craft was frowned on by many who, frankly, don't play tennis.
And doesn't that sound a bit like Shia LaBeouf, in the posh community of acting? We have more headlines on Shia's bad behavior off of a movie set, despite the fact that he has proven his talents in numerous films. During one particular (and awkward) press conference scene in Borg/McEnroe, the athlete is begging reporters to ask him a question about the sport they pretend to cover, when all they want to do is question him about his explosive temper. It holds a mirror up to Shia LaBeouf's own reality -- one that he undoubtedly helped to create.
A movie like Borg/McEnroe can continue to shift the conversation back to Shia LaBeouf's talents, and off of his exploits. Can, and should. Get a glimpse of him in action in the film's trailer. He truly shines:
Borg/McEnroe kicks off TIFF this evening, before rolling into theaters in the Fall (there is no U.S. date at the moment). See it for the final match, which is riveting, and for Shia LaBeouf's flawless turn as the volcanic Johnny Mack.