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Soundtrack review: Borg McEnroe (Jonas Struck – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Borg McEnroe (Jonas Struck – 2017)

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“Borg McEnroe” (Swedish: Borg, Finnish: Borg/McEnroe), also known as Borg vs McEnroe, is a 2017 internationally co-produced multi-language biographical sports drama film focusing on the famous rivalry between famous tennis players Björn Borg and John McEnroe at the 1980 Wimbledon Championships, culminating in their encounter in the men’s singles final. The film is directed by Janus Metz Pedersen, from a screenplay written by Ronnie Sandahl, and stars Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård, Tuva Novotny, and Robert Emms. Jonas Struck wrote the score.

I am always excited about sports dramas and especially those involving tennis since I’ve been following this sport all my life. Of course I know everything about the Borg McEnroe rivalry and I can’t wait to see this movie. It’s the second tennis inspired biopic of the year after “Battle of the sexes”. That one had a perfect score from Nicholas Brittel.

This one starts with a quite dark emotional prologue that would work very well on a drama score. Somehow knowing the characters, the players and their flamboyant and loud demeanor I was expecting a joyful and alert composition but Jonas Struck takes the story very seriously and, I imagine, focuses on the inner motivations and turmoil of these two intense men. His music is minimalistic and sharp with electronic influences and this gives it an intimate feel, the eye of the storm of this fiery rivalry.

When a composer chooses to go the quiet, tense way with a score he risks coming up with a texture that won’t work very well outside the context of the film it was written for; it’s not the case here as I am happy to discover music that invites me to explore all its nuances and none of the cues feel like fillers. The sound of “Borg McEnroe” is gritty and yes this is the other way to go instead of loud and sparkling; these guys were also about grinding it out, working, giving their all and the music has that edge, that cold stubbornness. There are also subtle and cleverly places warm emotional motifs, usually violins, which make this score feel even more well rounded and complete.

Jonas Struck wrote a dark score here, make no mistake; the joys of the sport and competition take a back seat to bitterness and desire to win at all costs and I am enjoying much deeper and more emotional score than I was expecting. “8mm memories”, one of the most violin heavy pieces of the score, really gets to me. The music of “Borg McEnroe” would have worked very well also for a dark thriller or drama, the type where the main character goes on a lonely and vengeful quest from which he might not come back; from a cue like “Labbe talks” I got a serious Liam Neeson / Denzel Washington solo action hero vibe.

I got much more from this score than I expected coming in; it’s a study in psychology, a score that focuses on fixed ideas and goals that consume ones soul and Jonas Struck showed me all this through a minimalistic and mostly quiet composition with the right touch of warmth and emotion whenever Labbe came along. I also need to remark the contrast between the gritty texture of the score and the sheer joy of triumph in “Winning” where the judicial is suddenly light and melodic and happy. It’s definitely the proper end for this musical journey. I am expecting to see this composer’s name on dramas or thrillers soon enough.

Cue rating: 88 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 25 / 47

Album excellence: 53%

Highlights:
Prologue
The Balcony
Rivalry
The Pact
8mm Memories
Labbe Talks
Discovering Borg
Björn & Labbe
Labbe Returns
Studio 54
The Art of Tennis
Winning
The Airport
The End

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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