Despite some great archive material and nice interview turns, this documentary portrait of disgraced German tennis legend Boris Becker from film-maker Alex Gibney is a frustrating and disappointing experience – because of the baffling way it is structured, both unrevealing and anticlimactic. It starts at the end, swoops back to the beginning and finally grinds to a halt somewhere around the middle. It could be that this is intended to be merely a first “episode”, though it isn’t billed as such.
We commence with Becker’s gripping downfall for tax evasion at London’s Southwark crown court in 2022, facing two-and-a-half years in prison and powerful interview testimony from the man himself: rueful, haunted, but rejecting self-pity. (In fact, Gibney seems to have had two interview sessions with him, one just before the verdict and one two years before that.) Then we cut back to his stunning 1985 Wimbledon triumph at the age of just 17, and his face is eerily cherubic.
And then …. well, as Gibney warns us in a voiceover, we hop about all over the place. There is intriguing material on his erstwhile manager, the broodingly moustachioed Romanian Ion Tiriac, who advised his teenage protege to live in tax-exile in Monaco. We skip forward to his earlier fine for German tax dodging in 2002; he’d infuriated the German taxman by spending time away from Monaco in Munich. We get loads of interviews with the reliably hilarious John McEnroe, shrewd Björn Borg, witty Mats Wilander.
Periodically we cut back to Becker being interviewed and pacing around Wimbledon. And then we get the long, long, long story of his on-court career from the mid-80s to the early 90s, which is recounted in exhausting and pointless detail and which is curtailed only by the closing credits.
But his notorious “broom closet” encounter with waitress Angela Ermakova is primly not mentioned, and the film completely declines to lead up satisfyingly to the present day situation and really engage with what sports journalists call the “George Best” question. Where did it all go wrong? How is it exactly that he managed to make such an almighty mess of his tax affairs for a second time, after having had that terrible scrape with German tax authorities 20 years before? Was he badly managed? Was he greedy? Or could it be that even now the charming, roguish, evasive and twinkly-eyed Boris isn’t telling Alex Gibney the whole truth about what precisely is going on?
Maybe. I suspect that there all sorts of no-go areas and legally problematic questions that this film has had to skirt around, and which has helped make it a muddle. But there are some nice nostalgia-rush moments (non-Brits at the screening I attended would not have understand the loud sighs from us at the sound of Dan Maskell) and Becker himself is an engaging rogue who finally escapes this film’s searching eye.