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Movie Review: Wimbledon - Men's Final (2018)


Wimbledon: Men's Final is the much-anticipated action thriller, directed by British auteur, James Keothavong. Winner of the Gold Badge Chair and having been at the helm of a number of big budget blockbuster productions in France, Australia and Argentina over the last 20 years, making Keothavong a perfect candidate for the director's chair. The sparsely scripted story follows Novak and Kevin, two aggressive mercenaries with years of elite training, whose bitter rivalry results in a showdown in London town.

Hailing from Serbia and South Africa respectively, the film revolves around a single location as the two take potshots at each other in an attempt to complete a do-or-die mission and scoop a massive contract pay out. Both armed with high tech gear and plenty of fire power, the sharpshooters find themselves trapped in a public space as a deadly shoot out scenario plays out with onlookers taking cover around them.

Novak Djokovic (Kissing) is a seasoned and award-winning performer, who has had a terrific run of form lately, after recovering from several injuries and some personal difficulties. Through eagle-eyed precision, he maintained composure and brought his A-game to round off an excellent performance. Despite some nerve-wracking moments and a few jitters when it came to overall consistency, his commitment to the craft eventually won the day.

Anderson, standing at 6.8 feet is no slouch and while his opening gambit was less than convincing, he made a remarkable recovery in the third act to save face and deliver a respectable performance that saw him stealing a number of scenes. Anderson's delivered several solid performances in recent memory, including a brilliant turn opposite screen legend, Roger Federer. While ultimately playing underdog to Djokovic, his co-lead performance was memorable and as a South African, his gutsy and long-suffering efforts will be etched on the minds of his fellow countrymen for years to come.

In terms of supporting performances, Wimbledon was a star-studded affair. While South African-born Federer deserved more screen time in the franchise, he delivered a surprising and noble performance, bowing out much earlier than expected like Steven Seagal in Executive Decision. Rafael Nadal, an equally strong actor, was fierce in his performance as we've come to expect, having played the lead in a number of multi-format productions. However, he was ultimately relegated to an antagonistic supporting role to the anti-hero, Djokovic in a prequel.

These kinds of sports films have become known for their cameos and Wimbledon: Men's Final is no different, featuring Prince William, Kate Middleton, Morne Morkel and a number of Swedish screen legends, including Stefan Edberg and Bjorn Borg. Keothavong obviously wanted to tip the hat to German Expressionism with his curious choice for Boris Becker to narrate. The choice was possibly inspired by Becker's esteemed career, which truly began opposite Kevin Curren, another player believed to be South African in a film of the same name in 1985.

The cinematography was quite pedestrian, using natural lighting and offering a few repetitive wide angle shots only to zoom in on the player's legs and footwear. You get the impression that the DOP has probably made thousands of these films before, adhering closely to formula or a rule book of sorts. Unfortunately, much of their performance was lost with long shots of the players backs and not enough close ups. The action shots were more assured, providing a number of great single takes from various angles. While the bullet-time seems old hat almost two decades since The Matrix, it was good to get closer to the powerful action sequences. In terms of the edit, Wimbledon: Men's Final was a mish-mash... moving from the co-leads to random extras intermittently and without warning. This broke the continuity, although offered some relief from the repetitive nature of their versus showdown.

The visual effects were a bit iffy at times with both co-leads questioning the director on several occasions during the third act. While some of the props look round, yellow and fuzzy at first glance, the visual effects made their markings seem oval and overly simplistic. Adding to the mess was the decision to try and blend the action cameras out of view using green screen effects. While covered in green, you can still clearly see the cameras and entire crew, demonstrating that this was a slapdash effort from a bunch of amateurs. While moody and pensive at times, the pacing was haphazard - moving from slow-motion to slower motion between shots only to resume live-action in real time - making it quite disorientating.

Wimbledon: Men's Final is standing on the shoulders of many similarly poised action thrillers that have come before it. To this end, Keothavong obviously wanted to own this thriller, trying to be as invisible as possible. His laissez-faire style with his actors, allowed Djokovic to start acting when he pleased without any shouts of "ACTION". The ball bouncing was a bit unconventional, but Djokovic made it his own - offering a very physical and hard-hitting performance. While sparsely scripted, the choice to include "quiet, please" from an off-screen voice made for a rather chilling atmosphere.

The sound design was equally disturbing with the sound of people murmuring, followed by loud clapping and cheers before a deafening silence. The soundtrack did include a number of popular jingles with waves of product placements, but thankfully these were short-lived. The most curious thing about Wimbledon was the foley work... as shot sound effects sounded more like pops and grunts. The effects make up wasn't much better with little to no blood in an action thriller that lasted over two hours!?

Shot entirely on location in the suburb of Wimbledon in London, the film has plenty of British charm... soaking up the ambiance against such iconic backdrops as the London Eye and Big Ben. From the pristine grass courts and chalk outlines to the lofty main court stands, there's a sense of decorum, steeped in years of tradition and floppy hats.

While there have been some outcries over whitewashing the ensemble, the leads were dressed predominantly in white... an interesting choice of camouflage by the bold designer, who obviously wanted the players to stand out against the various shades of green. Subtle touches like the crocodile on Djokovic's apparel, played into the rich symbolism, clearly demonstrating the predator and conversely the prey in this tightly-wound action thriller.

Overall, Wimbledon: Men's Final was carried by its powerful co-lead performances and a strong third act. The single location concept made it quite resourceful, allowing most of the budget to be dedicated to the stellar cast. The cinematography was mediocre, despite some lively and awe-inspiring action set pieces, which weren't helped by the erratic edit and abstract sound design. The cameos certainly added some spice to proceedings, but most of these performances were sub par, tight-lipped and wooden. While James Keothavong is an experienced director, his subtle and artistic approach to this minimalist blockbuster was indeed questionable, making Wimbledon: Men's Final a mixed bag at best with a few memorable moments.