★★★★

‘Challengers’ is a captivating drama directed by Luca Guadagnino and featuring Zendaya, Mike Faist, and Josh O’Connor. This tennis-themed love triangle serves an ace with its gripping narrative, snappy editing, and stylish cinematography. The film explores intense drama and comedic moments, diving into the complex characters and relationships set against the competitive backdrop of professional tennis.

The story follows Tashi Duncan, portrayed by Zendaya, a former tennis player turned coach, as she pushes her husband Art, played by Mike Faist, back into the competitive world of tennis through a low-level championship match. The introduction of Patrick Zweig adds tension and unresolved emotions to the mix.

Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise © 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Mike Faist stars as Art and Zendaya as Tashi in director Luca Guadagnino’s CHALLENGERS. Photo credit: Niko Tavernise © 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

The film cleverly uses the tennis court as a battlefield where personal conflicts and past relationships are hashed out, serving as a metaphor for the characters’ internal and interpersonal struggles. ‘Challengers’ compares tennis to a relationship, likening it to the feeling of being in love. Guadagnino’s film skillfully portrays this sentiment through its visually intoxicating frames, drawing viewers into a world where every conversation is a tennis match and every tennis match is a charged, sensual encounter.

Mike Faist stars as Art and Zendaya as Tashi in director Luca Guadagnino’s
CHALLENGERS 
An Amazon MGM Studios film
Photo credit: Niko Tavernise
© 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Mike Faist stars as Art and Zendaya as Tashi in director Luca Guadagnino’s CHALLENGERS. Photo credit: Niko Tavernise. © 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

Early on in the film, at a lively party, Patrick and Art invite Tashi to their hotel room, sparking a competition that quickly escalates into a nerve-wracking power struggle. A seemingly casual anecdote about masturbation told by Patrick (Josh O’Connor) and Art (Mike Faist) unfolds into a tense showdown, while a three-way encounter reveals layers of denial and control. ‘Challengers’ ingeniously presents every conversation as a metaphorical tennis match and every tennis match as a provocative, sensual experience. The film’s galvanising score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross masterfully unites these elements, creating an enthralling cinematic narrative.

The narrative delves into themes of competition, desire, and the intricacies of male friendship through the portrayal of Art and Patrick’s rivalry and comradeship, anchored by Tashi as the fulcrum of the gripping narrative. Zendaya’s portrayal of Tashi showcases her resilience and multifaceted personality, while Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor deliver nuanced performances, highlighting their on-screen chemistry and dedication to their roles.

‘Challengers’ offers a visceral exploration of ambition, competition, and the complexities of human relationships, establishing a visual and narrative benchmark for contemporary cinema.

Josh O’Connor stars as Patrick and Zendaya as Tashi in director Luca Guadagnino’s
CHALLENGERS 
An Amazon MGM Studios film
Photo credit: Niko Tavernise
© 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Josh O’Connor stars as Patrick and Zendaya as Tashi in director Luca Guadagnino’s CHALLENGERS. Photo credit: Niko Tavernise
© 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

Guadagnino totally gets desire, from the sneaky and mean to the desperate and ravenous, just look at A Bigger Splash, Call Me by Your Name (one of my all time favourite films that helped me come out), and Bones and All. His films are known to shake things up and get under your skin.

Tashi’s journey stands out against the privileged background of the two white boys for whom tennis was just a game they played as a hobby before they turned professional. Now, she’s seeing them succeed. Does she really care about them, or is she simply pleased to see how easily they yield to her? ‘Challengers’ uses every slow-mo shot of Zendaya to suggest that she could bring back the old-school movie star vibe, but it also shows Tashi’s vulnerable side when her confidence wavers. Faist and O’Connor are playing mind games in a way you wouldn’t expect. It’s a gripping sports movie, but the ending left me a bit disappointed, wanting a little more. ‘Challengers’ is in cinemas from 26 April.