Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score delves into a sporting injustice that’ll be best-suited to fans of tennis but really should appeal to anyone with an interest in seeing credit given where it’s due.
A good sports documentary can be about anything – as long as it’s about sport, obviously. But the sport itself doesn’t matter. Stuff like The Last Dance, about the biggest star in one of the world’s biggest sports, gives the wrong impression. You can take that same formula – a blend of archival material, in-person testimonies, and a compelling narrative hook – and apply it to any player in any discipline. Few outside of dedicated tennis aficionados will have heard of South American player Guillermo Vilas, but his story of striving for greatness and being repeatedly denied it through no fault of his own will likely resonate with most regardless.
It certainly resonated with Argentinian journalist Eduardo Poppo, whose determined efforts to prove that Vilas was wrongfully denied the coveted number one spot in the world rankings power the fittingly-titled Settling the Score. His search takes him across decades and countless tournaments around the globe and finds him amassing oodles of raw data with which he can prove the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) wrong. There’s crucial data missing from a key period in Vilas’s career, during the ‘70s, and a lot of the film is couched there despite making the effort to display the length and breadth of Vilas’s impressive career.
There’s nothing unusual about the construction of Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score. There is plenty of audio and video footage, some stylistic flourishes in how certain portions are framed and how certain information is presented, and a clear narrative throughline with an end goal in mind. The only real knock against it is that it can sometimes move towards that goal at a too-agreeable pace, becoming a little self-indulgent on its way. At a lean 90 minutes, it isn’t overlong, but it sometimes threatens to feel it.
Luckily the crux of the matter is compelling enough that the story always finds its feet again, especially in the final third. Those who’re fans of the sport will be satisfied with the way this film looks into it at a specific time in its history – not to mention the cameos from some all-time-greats – and most people will be satisfied with the human-interest story at its heart.
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