Challengers review: Gripping blend of sports, love, sensuality, and thrill

Karishma Jangid
New Update

'Challengers' blends sports with a love triangle and adds thrill to the story. With clever storytelling and stellar performances, it's a refreshing take on the genre.

Sports movies have become their own category over time, often focusing on real-life athletes or dramatic stories, sometimes with a patriotic twist. However, these films usually centre solely on the sport, which can be tiresome if you're not a fan. In 'Challengers,' director Luca Guadagnino breaks this mould by blending sports with a love triangle, giving both equal importance, and it works effectively.

After competing in the junior Open, best friends Patrick Zweig (Josh O'Connor) and Art Donaldson (Mike Faist) encounter Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), a rising tennis star. Both teenagers fall in love with Tashi, who, in turn, is solely in love with tennis. For her, love and tennis are intertwined; she often uses one to control the other. This pattern also extends to her relationship with her "little white boys." Twelve years later, Tashi and Art are married, with Tashi serving as his coach throughout his successful athletic career. When an injury threatens Art's confidence, Tashi pushes for a comeback, setting the stage for a tournament where he faces off against Patrick. Once again, the trio finds themselves entangled in a love triangle, their priorities askew and their lust for victory clouding their judgment.

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This description doesn't reveal much about the film on purpose, because a big part of enjoying it is the detailed screenplay by Justin Kuritzkes. Although the screenplay is detailed, it's not long; it's actually well-written with impressive dialogues and keeps you guessing. The characters are the highlights of both the screenplay and the film, crafted with careful attention and conviction. Tashi's character, especially, is intriguing. It might be tempting to label her as just manipulative for manipulation’s sake, but there's more depth to her than meets the eye. Plus, seeing a black woman in control of white men adds an extra layer of interest.

The camera often zooms in close to her, creating a sense of intimacy, but it's a false hope; you'll never truly know what's going on inside her head. Zendaya's acting adds to this charade, with O'Connor and Faist also performing convincingly. However, only O'Connor matches Zendaya's energy on screen. Faist's character requires more restraint, which he delivers smoothly. The camera, though (I might sound silly saying this), can be distracting. While the sometimes lively, sometimes religious background music fits well with the story and characters, the camera doesn't always follow suit. Guadagnino uses the camera creatively and boldly to create sensuality, a key element of the film. The camera also reveals the characters' vulnerability; the intimate scenes often reflect the power dynamics in the story. However, the screenplay is so gripping that every time the camera took its time to be inventive, it felt frustrating, making me think, "Enough! What happens next?" internally. Nonetheless, the film eventually delivers a satisfying climax as twisted as the story itself.

Challengers is indeed different; ‘twisted’ is the apt term. This is why, while I am impressed by the film, I still can’t imagine it becoming a commercial favourite. Because it is not indie enough, it looks mainstream; at the same time, it is not mainstream enough to be a commercial favourite. Nevertheless, it is entertaining and enjoyable for its reflective writing and stellar acting.

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