TORONTO (Reuters) – A tale of real-life rivalry on the tennis court kicked off the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday in a scaled-back line-up of movies that focus on tales of survival amid chaos.
“Borg/McEnroe” stars Shia LaBeouf as fiery U.S. tennis star John McEnroe and Sverrir Gudnason as cool Swedish champion Björn Borg, whose epic matches in the 1980s set the world of tennis alight.
“Their rivalry had something universal that transcended the sport,” director Janus Metz told a news conference. “It had deep existential questions about how two people could drive themselves above and beyond.”
LaBeouf, 31, in his first big movie since a string of arrests for drunken or disorderly behavior in the past three years, acknowledged that he shared some of McEnroe’s hot-headed personality.
“Acting is like athletics – ordinary men with extraordinary effort putting themselves out there,” the actor said, calling McEnroe the “bad Santa” of the tennis world.
“Borg/McEnroe” is not the only film getting a Toronto showcase whose drama plays out on the tennis court. Emma Stone, in her first movie since winning an Oscar for musical “La La Land” in February, plays Billie Jean King as she fought 1970s sexism and faced off against Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) in “Battle of the Sexes.”
The Toronto festival has become one of the most important stops for filmmakers looking to showcase their work in the long Hollywood awards season that culminates with the Oscars, on March 4 next year. The slate this year has been trimmed to 260 from around 300 in 2016.
The festival’s chief executive, Piers Handling, said this year’s line-up reflected a “fascination with people at the top, people who have sacrificed everything.”
Other movies featuring personal struggles include the world premieres of “Stronger,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a man who lost both his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and “Kings” in which Halle Berry plays a woman trying to protect her brood of children during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Other films on offer include “Suburbicon,” a George Clooney-directed satire tackling racial prejudice in 1950s America, and Darren Aronofsky’s horror movie “mother!”, starring Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence.
Angelina Jolie brings her film “First They Killed My Father” about the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia to Toronto, while “Darkest Hour” stars Gary Oldman as British World War Two Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Reporting by Alastair Sharp and Chris Arsenault; Editing by Grant McCool and Leslie Adler