challengers 2024

Review of the challengers


challengers Review: Zendaya proves herself worthy of all the praise, not just by playing a charming femme fatale with irresistible charm but also by probing into the mind of a woman who cannot take no for an answer.

According to Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), tennis is more than hitting a ball with a racquet. It’s about relationship, she implies — what she doesn’t say but Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers does is that sport can change imperceptibly as forms, confidence and the courage to go for broke come and go.

Tennis in Luca Guadignino’s Challengers is about human equations and mind games, as it tends to be in life. It serves as both glue and repellent in the lives of three people in a messy menage e trois that sees the ball being hit from one court to the other and back without let. The result is an erotic film that is thrilling not because it titillates directly but because it does so indirectly.

Challengers could be seen, up to a point, as an extension of Guadagnino’s self-proclaimed “desire” trilogy — I Am Love, A Bigger Splash, Call Me by Your Name. It is a sports movie that is sensuous and captivating not merely because it builds up a tennis rivalry until there is nothing left but a serve-and-volley game which produces many exciting cross-court winners.

It gets virtually everything right but none of Challengers’ constituent parts can outgun its incredibly well-executed and twist-filled ending. Set to hardcore techno music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails (who collaborated on 2022’s Bones & All), it has more than one eureka moment worth at least ten match points each. It goes above them all.

The seductive drama of broken relationships tells a tale about love lost and found, ambition won and thwarted, ego fed and starved. Three tennis prodigies whose lives have intertwined but led in different directions find themselves washed ashore as their self-hatred and self-interest drive them deeper into danger.

One of them, a three-time NCAA champion, had to give up playing tennis before she was 20; another has risen to the top of the game; while the third remains a complete unknown who fell far short of his potential. They are bound together for life.

Challengers takes place on the final day of a 2019 ATP tour tournament. It ends with former boarding school roommates Art Donaldson (Mike Faist) and Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor) facing off in the final — as Art’s partner for life and coach Tashi looks on, both as an invested observer and a curious spectator.

Art Donaldson is a tennis superstar who is currently on an unprecedented losing streak that threatens to derail his bid for glory at this year’s US Open — which he needs to win in order to complete a career Grand Slam. Tashi suggests he play a low-risk challenger at the New Rochelle Tennis Club just outside New York City to get back on track after so many near misses ahead of The Big One that has always eluded him.

Everything seems like it will become worse for Tashi, when she finds out that the man she and Art erased from their lives almost ten years ago is also in the lineup; Patrick. He’s broke. His credit card doesn’t work, so he can’t check into a hotel, and he sleeps in his car. It’s clear that his life (and career) didn’t take him where he would have liked to be when he partnered with Art on college events.

Piecing together the story of two tennis players who’ve known each other intimately for over a decade, through flashbacks that track the evolution of their friendship and affairs marked by deception and dodgy behavior, the trio is too self-involved to be looking for empathy – which is the film’s biggest ask. Tashi, Art and Patrick are not nice people. They’ll do anything to get what they want.

How exactly we’re meant to relate to this threesome is left up to us. Which way should our sympathies tip? Should we root for them or hate them for the things they say and do to each other (and themselves)? Ambiguity reigns supreme in Challengers.

So many emotional and moral ambiguities color playwright Justin Kuritzkes’ screenplay that one isn’t ever inclined to cheer on friends-turned-foes Patrick and Art or single-minded Tashi, who’s committed herself to “helping” Art work his way out of a slump; she has her work cut out for her – but it’s not uninteresting seeing how far short she falls.

Challengers is a stylishly made psychodrama set around tennis —which isn’t used as metaphor here; it gives equal time between scenes— anchored by three incredibly self-aware central performances that knocks the ball right out of the park… O’Connor plays an absolute twerp with stunning flair: he irritates; he provokes; never pulls punches nor budges from his presumptuous ways; every step the actor takes clicks.

Art Donaldson, a man more manipulated than manipulating, is fleshed out by Faist with equal conviction. The two actors perform a duet full of highs; their jousts on and off the court give the film its hypnotic pulse.

But, all is said and done, it’s Zendaya who serves as Challengers’ heart and soul. At one point Patrick describes her character as “the hottest woman I’ve ever seen” —and Zendaya lives up to the hype: not just by playing an irresistible seductress with beguiling aplomb but also digging deep into minds of women who won’t take no for an answer.

Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (whose credits include Palme d’Or winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives as well Call Me By Your Name) brings his proven sense of texture and depth along with an ability to deploy camera like eye of detached/distant viewer interiors world full contradictions visually.

Some of the charm of Challengers is also due to its dislocated chronology, which shows us love affairs and friendships, some of them fervent and others that wound in an instant, as little glimpses that tell us everything we need to know about them without telling us anything at all. The film’s structure suggests a relationship drama trapped inside a sports movie about two former tennis partners who had a court-sized falling out.

Challengers is an incredibly well-made film. It’s both concrete and suggestive.

Watch challengers For Free On Gomovies.

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