With Universal’s release of Wimbledon we get a little glimpse at the drive, tension and politics that are involved in playing in such an important tournament


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In each sport there is a game that all contenders dream of being good enough to play. For baseball it’s the World Series, football has the Super bowl and for tennis it’s Wimbeldon.

With Universal’s release of Wimbeldon we get a little glimpse at the drive, tension and politics that are involved in playing in such an important tournament. Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) is a professional tennis player rapidly approaching the end of his career. Back in 1996 he was ranked 11th in the world, now he just gets by at 119th. When he manages a wild card into Wimbledon he hopes that this will be his way to go out on top. Win or lose he plans to retire after the event. Once there he meets Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst) one of the new breed of rising female tennis stars, young, beautiful and talented. With two good looking people set against professional sports not much of a plot is needed, nor is it actually provided. If you try to watch this as a sports movie than you would need some deeper story line to carry the action but as a romantic comedy it is more than enough. Naturally there is an immediate attraction between the rising and falling stars. There is also the father of the girl Dennis (Sam Neil) who feels that romance will interfere with Lizzie’s game. Peter is not so fortunate on the family front. His parents Augusta (Eleanor Bron) and Edward (Bernard Hill) are the stereotypical warring couple constantly bickering. His younger brother Carl (James McAvoy) plans to make money by betting against Peter.

At the center Wimbledon is a love story, actually, a tale about the effects of love. While Peter is encouraged by his growing feelings for Lizzie she is distracted, just as her father always warned her would happen. Its not that Peter is showing off for his new lady love or even feels he need to compete with her, Lizzie truly brings out something that Peter thought he had lost, self confidence. Slipping so far in the ranks has taken a lot out of Peter’s morale but having a relationship seems to have stirred a belief that he can do it. For Lizzie there is almost an opposite affect. She has been protected from life by her father/manager. The men she has known where passing fancies but now her heart is actually going out to another. Dennis has the perfect ‘I told you so’ but instead tries to support his daughter still hoping that her game will recover and she will go to the top of the sport. There is a certain charm to Wimbledon, one that is refreshing amidst the plethora of serious movies or action packed flicks. Sometimes you just want to forget the world and become involved in a film that just entertains. With this in mind Wimbledon works.

For a romantic comedy to work there has to be a modicum of chemistry between the two leads. Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany manage to muster the correct movements but just seem to not click as well as they might. In a way it works here since there is a similar mismatch to their talents, reflecting their characters. Dunst, although very young has a lot of years as a professional actor. By the time Bettany started in films Dunst had some eight years of experience behind her. Dunst plays Lizzie as a somewhat spoiled little girl, the darling of media attention. A bit rebellious of her protective father she wants it all, excitement on and off the court. Being protected she was not emotionally prepared for actually falling in love. Dunst nails this persona and while not her best performance she does the job well. Bettany seems to be able to draw on his own position in life to fill out his character. His work in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and A Beautiful Mind demonstrates that he has talent yet he is over shadowed by other young actors. Here he gives Paul that need to be on the top if only for a last great moment. As always, Sam Neil gives a nice little slant on his father. Usually such a role becomes cliché and predictable. Neil provides a greater depth to his character, a father that truly loves his daughter and wants her to be successful in her chosen profession.

Director Richard Loncraine is a capable and talented man. His resume includes Brimstone & Treacle, an episode of Band of Brothers and even a re-invention of Richard III. Here he seems to be testing out his ability to direct a romantic comedy. While very light on the screen this genre is difficult to master and although Loncraine hasn’t nailed it yet he is on his way. Guided by a production team that has been responsible for such genre classics as Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral as well as both Brigit Jones flicks, he is learning how to master this form of cinema. I did have a problem with the voice over, internal dialogue used as Peter plays his matches. It was a bit distracting and took the onus away from the actor to convey what he was feeling. From a cinematic viewpoint he juxtaposes a sharp focus for the matches against the warm and fuzzy soft focus used in the love scenes. This does provide a visual clue to the emotional state of the actors.

Wimbledon is well mastered and provides better than the usual extras. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video is well framed and gives an excellent color palette. Flesh tones are natural and the view of the ball speeding between players is novel. The audio is presented both in Dolby 5.1 and DTS. The DTS track had a bit more depth to it, a better resonance with the rear speakers and a fuller back sound field. There is a full length commentary track featuring Bettany and Loncraine that provides some insight into production but mostly tends towards personal reflections of the filming of Wimbledon. There are four featurettes included on Wimbledon. The first is a look at the Wimbledon tournament which uses interviews of cast, crew and actual tennis players to show what goes into making it to this point in tennis fame. Next there is a look at a tennis club, the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club. Ball Control shows the technical obstacles that had to be overcome for the production and finally a look at the physical training the stars required to become believable tennis players on screen. In all Wimbledon is an enjoyable little film.

Movie Review of Wimbledon by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com

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