Solid sports documentaries are 10 a penny. Sports documentaries that delve so comprehensively into the psychology of their subject, which position them both in the cultural landscape and in a transformative moment of their chosen discipline, are less common. Barney Douglas’s doc about tennis maverick John McEnroe belongs to that rare handful of portraits that should find an audience far beyond just fans of the game itself. In this, it has a kinship with Asif Kapadia’s films Senna and Diego Maradona.
There’s one key difference, however – while the subjects of Kapadia’s films are now dead, McEnroe is still very much alive. And while not mellowed exactly – an evocative device shows the grizzled former champion prowling around the night-time streets of the city that shaped him, New York – the film finds him in a contemplative mood. Through extensive interview footage, both with McEnroe and those close to him, archive material and some slightly unwieldy CG graphics, the film unpicks the experience of being a phenomenon and a hate figure for a kid who was barely out of his teens.