"Challengers" Film Review

Challengers (2024) - IMDb


Rating: 4.5/5

By: Nathaniel Simpson

    I honestly thought it was a little interesting when the next Luca Guadagnino's film was announced to be Challengers, a love triangle film between three tennis players. This is the man who has made such great, intricate films, like the Suspiria remake, Call Me By Your Name, and Bones and All. The trailers for this new Zendaya-led film looked quite good and I was excited to see it, but I was also both curious and worried that this wouldn't live up the other films of Guadagnino's. However, I was really impressed and delighted to see that Guadagnino creates another great film that shows this complex love triangle between three messy humans to near-perfection, with fantastic performances from Zendaya, Josh O'Connor, and Mike Faist. This proves that I shouldn't have doubted Guadagnino for a second. 

    The film revolves around three aspiring tennis players who are hoping to make it in the majors for the sport of tennis. Art (Faist) and Patrick (O'Connor) have known each other for years, growing up playing together in doubles. They don't think anything could break them apart, until they meet the great Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), an athlete who has already rose through the ranks and even have partnership deals before she starts college. The two young men fall head over heels for Tashi, and would do anything for a shot with her. 

    The film spans a couple decades, showing how these characters have evolved over time. It not only shows how these relationships are broken and formed, but how far some people will go for the glory and fame. Guadagnino presents here a real character piece, focusing on these three protagonists (or would you say they're all antagonists) that not only want to be loved by someone, but have their names in the history books. While the sex appeal and the sports aspect works really well here, I would say it's Guadagnino's amazing sense of how to tell a story that makes this film so good. 

    The screenplay, which is told through different time periods throughout, is impeccably written and keeps the viewers on the edge of their seats. This film has minimal tennis playing through most of it, showing only brief glimpses of match points here and there. The entire movie has to rely on these gripping conversations and moments between our three main characters, and it does so perfectly. Writer Justin Kuritzkes understands the importance of conversation and dialogue, and uses that skill he has so well here. There are multiple moments here where I felt so much tension and stress that it forced me to the edge of my seat, just due to a single conversation between a husband and wife. At the same time, the symbolism (which I won't spoil here) is amazing, and allows viewers of all types to be able to pick up on what the writer is trying to say. 

    Yet, I don't think it would all work if it wasn't due to the fantastic acting of our three characters. Faist and O'Connor are great in their own respective rights, with Faist playing a more timid and shy character and O'Connor playing his foil; an ego-maniac who can charm all the ladies and thinks he can do no wrong. They really give it their all, and their performances are given in such a way that you can't help but like both characters despite their flaws. But, the real standout here is Zendaya, who perhaps gives one of the best performances of her career so far as Tashi. We have never seen Zendaya like this before, and she does so much by doing so little. Consider one of the scenes in the present where her and O'Connor's characters are talking. If you watch her face, she is able to make one eye seem a little crazy, while keeping the rest of her face completely normal and stoic. I know it may sound cheesy when you are reading this, but she does it so damn well to convey there is something diabolical going on with this character. Tashi is such a complex character that has multiple layers, all which Zendaya is able to show from beginning to end. 

    The cinematography from Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and the music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross really does a lot to evaluate the film. The cinematography is really interesting to watch, with great camera angles and effects. I also enjoy how they shoot the sport of tennis throughout the film. I actually played tennis in high school, and watching this film, it feels like Mukdeeprom must have some sort of understanding of the sport. I wouldn't want the film to look any other way. At the same time, the score, which is surprisingly full of house music, does a fantastic job of creating tension and stress through every scene it is present in. The filmmakers definitely made a smart decision to make the score the loudest thing in the scene, at times, by making the viewer feel physically uncomfortable after a while. 

    This then leads me to the part that I wish could have been avoided - the ending. This is such a fantastic film, and I feel like the ending is a let-down. It builds to so much throughout the two-and-a-half hour runtime, and the ending is lackluster in comparison. When analyzing the ending, which I will also not spoil so you can see this for yourself, I understand how it wraps up some personal issues the characters struggle with throughout the film, but there is so much left there that doesn't get wrapped up. There are some storylines present that offer conflicts for the characters after, but it seems like all those are forgotten due to a point in a match. I appreciate and understand what the ending was going for, but a bigger part of me wishes we just had 10 or 15 more minutes to fully wrap up this story. 

    There is no doubt that Guadagnino made another one of his amazing films. I had a great time watching this, and I think the writing, directing, and acting are fantastic from beginning to end. You can tell you are watching a carefully crafted film where there are so many elements here that are spot on when they are usually overlooked in other, modern films. Guadagnino impresses once again, and I think this movie may be one of his easily accessible for audiences, allowing them to discover this fantastic filmmaker.