Quentin Reynaud’s devastating Final Set is the story of a 37-year old failed tennis prodigy Thomas J Edison (Alex Lutz) attempting one final comeback. Thomas was once renowned as the French next generation’s best hope, but his career stalled out early. So, at 37, he decides to compete in the qualifying rounds of the French Open for one last shot at the success that eluded him, to answer his obsession, the one great passion of his life.
His wife, Eve (Ana Girardot), has stood by him through years of Tennis tours and attempts to rise to stardom, but she’s tired of raising their son alone while Thomas travels for matches. His mother, Judith (an increasingly rare appearance by Kristin Scott Thomas), owns a Tennis school for children. She expresses regret and contrition that she pushed Thomas so hard at the sport to excel and become a champion.
All the years of practice and play caused his knee to deteriorate as a result of a combination of over-stressing the joint, a congenital defect that accelerated its decline. He knows he’s on the clock, the same as all professional athletes, but his time is running out faster than most.
“…At 37, he decides to compete in the qualifying rounds of the French Open for one last shot at the success that eluded him…”
All the baggage around Thomas doesn’t fog his vision, however. He’s obsessed but not deluded. He understands that the Tennis world sees him as a pathetic figure, a has-been trying to reclaim the promise of early acclaim. In his mind, however, none of this is relevant. He is unaffected by anything except his drive to get every last ounce out of his aging body, and his iron will propel him to whatever conclusion awaits. The single-minded fury with which he drives at this goal causes rifts between himself and his wife and with his mother. It’s clear that after all, Thomas isn’t trying to impress his mother, or the press, or his opponents. Thomas is doing mortal combat with the ghosts of his younger self.
As Thomas, Alex Lutz strikes the perfect balance between a man who is laboring under the image other people have of him and his own cold calculations of what he can still accomplish. He repeatedly says, “I am not done.” Lutz delivers a stellar performance, powerful and understated. Girardot as Eve is wonderful as his long-suffering wife, who also had to give up her tennis aspirations, but, unlike him, has long since moved on. It is delightful to see Kristin Scott Thomas, who gives us the perfect portrait of a mother who believed she needed to be cold and demanding to get the best game out of him but who now regrets him not having a proper childhood with a loving mother.
Final Set is emotional, without becoming sentimental, in much the same way Thomas regards his own tennis game. The cinematography is so good that it becomes a breathtaking character of its own. Combining close-ups of Lutz and his opponents with ground-level shots of the match play, every point won or lost is conveyed in brilliant detail. Reynaud, in Final Set, achieves what few directors have in elevating the sports film genre to cinematic art.
"…a 37-year old failed tennis prodigy, attempting one final comeback."