Published on April 20th, 2024 | by Harris Dang

Challengers – Film Review

Reviewed by Harris Dang on the 17th of April of 2024
Universal Pictures presents a film by Luca Guadagnino
Produced by Luca Guadagnino, Rachel O’Connor, Amy Pascal, and Zendaya
Written by Justin Kuritzkes
Starring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist
Edited by Marco Costa
Running Time: 131 minutes
Rating: MA15+
Release Date: the 18th of April 2024

Challengers tells the story of three young, competitive, ambitious, self-serving stalwarts in the tumultuous world of tennis. Tashi Duncan (Zendaya) was a huge tennis sensation but after sustaining a career-ending injury, she is now coaching her husband, Art Donaldson (Mike Faist). Donaldson is currently on a huge losing streak and he desperately seeks Duncan’s guidance on what to do. Her strategy to get Donaldson out of his form slump takes a sharp detour when he must face his former best friend and Duncan’s former boyfriend, Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor). What will happen when these three people clash both on and off the court?

Challengers is the latest film from acclaimed director Luca Guadagnino, who is best known for his stylish and sensual pieces, including Call Me by Your Name (2017) and A Bigger Splash (2015). Since then, he has taken on genre territory by applying his singular directorial touch to genre pieces such as the Suspiria remake (2018) and the cannibal romance Bones and All (2022). Both were well‑received but went unnoticed at the box office. Now with Challengers, Guadagnino takes on the wild world of sports and has Zendaya shepherding the project as producer. Will the film be both a critical and financial success?


The first thing one will notice when watching Challengers is that its filmmaking is immediately brimming with incendiary sexual energy. Guadagnino and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom know the interplay between the actors is more than just the sharp, acerbic, and wilfully self-aware dialogue from the witty screenplay by newcomer screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes (whose next collaboration with Guadagnino has already been completed). Instead, they showcase the physicality of the leads. Every drop of sweat, every muscle tense, every hand gesture, every neck turn, every subtle glance, every intense gaze adds tension that is sexual and narrative. It makes the film extremely fun to enjoy on a visual and suspenseful level.

The energy Is also incredibly palpable in its portrayal of tennis. The film takes nods from sports anime (with a story structure that is remarkably similar to last year’s The First Slam Dunk), the films of Seijun Suzuki, and using almost every possible angle one can think of in showcasing the tennis court. We see shots from under the court, shots from the point-of-view of the tennis ball, and shots from the camera mounted on the actors. It makes the game (and the interplay) such an exciting watch that it rivals many thrillers and action films.

The film’s storytelling approach also adds an unpredictability and emotional punch to the proceedings, as it revolves around a singular tennis match, interlaced with flashbacks that are deftly edited by Marco Costa. An astounding credit must go to composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, whose heart-pounding and rhythmic techno score pulsates the brimming, fiery sensation in the court action and the action between the actors.

But even with all the style and fancy bells and whistles on display, none of it would work if the actors had not grounded the film with identifiable emotions and convincing character arcs. Josh O’Connor is having a wonderful year in conveying his remarkable acting range from his beautifully understated work in Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera (2023) and now Challengers. Acting in the opposite side of the spectrum, he turns up the smarm and emanates a feral allure that is repulsive yet immersive, which adds credence as to why people are always drawn to him. It also helps that his boorish behaviour is almost offset by his wide puppy-dog eyes that display a compelling level of humanity.

As for Faist, his portrayal of vulnerability is understated and yet it masks yearning and a fire that needs to be ignited on and off the court. Out of the three leads, Faist has the most engaging character arc as he is the one that manages to come out of his shell and gain self-initiative and confidence in that he becomes a wild card that deters the motivations of Zendaya and O’Connor’s characters.

And of course, there is Zendaya who is free from the shackles from playing vulnerable, soulful teenage roles. She dominates the screen with seething passion, deviousness and playfulness that keeps the men wrapped around her finger (as well as the audience), making their co-dependency her greatest weapon. The shared chemistry is both strikingly intimate, enjoyably frisky, and engagingly domineering. Yet it also holds great emotional weight as it highlights the weaknesses of what happens when one loses confidence and strays off the beaten path.

With star-quality performances, a refreshingly witty script and gloriously stylish filmmaking, Challengers is a boisterous, frisky, and energetic time at the movies and one of the most fun cinematic experiences in 2024. Highly recommended.

Challengers – Film Review Harris Dang

Summary: With star-quality performances, a refreshingly witty script and gloriously stylish filmmaking, Challengers is a boisterous, frisky, and energetic time at the movies and one of the most fun cinematic experiences in 2024. Highly recommended.



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