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Toronto: Shia LaBeouf courts a comeback in 'Borg/McEnroe'

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Borg/McEnroe (Photo: TIFF)

After publicly criticizing Steven Spielberg a few years back, Shia LaBeouf basically double-faulted on his chances of ever returning to the Indiana Jones franchise. And, sure enough, news broke this week that Henry “Mutt” Jones III won’t be part of his archeologist father’s fifth (and final…maybe) adventure. But the actor is already putting Indy in his rearview by serving up an ace at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. LaBeouf has earned some of the best notices of his career for playing temperamental tennis star John McEnroe in Borg/McEnroe, the opening night film of TIFF 2017. Directed by Danish filmmaker Janus Metz, the movie re-creates the 1980 Wimbledon Championship match that pitted McEnroe against repeat champ, Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason). Here’s a small sampling of some of the thumbs-up responses that LaBeouf received via Twitter after the film screened in Toronto.

Before you all start shouting “You cannot be serious!Yahoo Movies concurs that LaBeouf is easily the best thing about Borg/McEnroe, an otherwise paint-by-numbers biopic that, more often than not, reminds us of Ron Howard’s Rush, only with tennis balls substituting for Formula One racecars. What’s so entertaining about his performance is how clearly he’s leaning into his off-screen persona as rising Hollywood star turned tantrum-throwing troublemaker.

His frequent outbursts may have made him a media punching bag — and have almost certainly impacted the roles he’s been offered of late — but they perfectly fit the wild child that McEnroe was at the time the movie takes place. Even better, the intensity of LaBeouf’s rages early on only makes the character’s mid-match transformation into a stoic tennis warrior in the mold of Borg that much more dramatic. And when LaBeouf as McEnroe cracks his first genuine grin near the end of the film, it’s hard not to flash back to the early days of the actor’s career, when he enlivened middling movies like The Battle of Shaker Heights and Disturbia with seemingly effortless charm and charisma.

So does Borg/McEnroe herald LaBeouf’s second act? The actor was certainly on his best behavior at the film’s Toronto press conference as well as the movie’s red carpet premiere — no paper bag over the head-type shenanigans here. And while the reviews for the film — which currently doesn’t have a U.S. release date — have been decidedly mixed, most critics have nothing but praise for the “McEnroe” half of the title. Now, the ball is in LaBeouf’s court. We’ll soon see if the potential career comeback served up by Borg/McEnroe results in a solid return.

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