Feature First

Film Reviews

‘Challengers’ Review: An Intense Rivalry Of The Senses

After a short directorial break, Luca Guadagnino is back with his latest feature film, Challengers.

'Challengers' Review: An Intense Rivalry Of The Senses
Challengers / Image Courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios

Beginning his cinematic journey with 1999’s The Protagonists, Luca Guadagnino has made quite the name for himself. He is best known for directing Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in the Oscar-nominated Call Me By Your Name, an emotionally complex love story between two young men. 

For this 2017 directorial endeavour, he would garner much international attention. He would go on to direct a remake of Suspiria before being reunited with Chalamet in 2022’s Bones And All, a cannibal romance road trip film led by Taylor Russell. Now the director is back for his eighth directorial feature, Challengers.

Similar to Call Me By Your Name and Bones And All, the film is deeply embedded with themes of love and romance, making for an intense dynamic as the film follows the rivalry between two close friends turned opponents. 

'Challengers' Review: An Intense Rivalry Of The Senses
Challengers / Image Courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios

Those are the basic elements but these factors come together quite well as the film follows Art and Patrick, played by Mike Faist (West Side Story) and Josh O’Connor (La Chimera) respectively, who are both professional tennis players and look to court a fellow tennis player Tashi who is played by Zendaya.

A lot of these elements come into play when the film turns this dynamic into a love triangle filled with manipulation and passion which is incredibly tense. Through a combination of excellent direction, some fast and exciting editing and this intriguing dynamic between the three leads, it is hard not to enjoy. 

There’s a commendable balance between Faist, O’Connor and Zendaya’s screen time, which in a film like this would usually lean one way or another but is so balanced I can’t decide who got the most screen time. Faist and O’Connor are easily the best performances of the film for me, despite Zendaya technically being the face of the film. 

Evidently, all three put in countless hours of work to prepare themselves mentally and physically for such an incredible set of roles. But that third act truly convinced me that Faist and O’Connor need more roles and fast.

Challengers / Image Courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross aren’t strangers to creating fantastic pieces of music, composing the scores for The Social Network, Gone Girl and The Killer but their work on Challengers may seriously be their best yet. The score is loud, rambunctious and thrilling and perfectly underscores the rivalry of the tennis matches featured in the film. 

It works perfectly well on its own too, feeling like it would be suited in a rave playlist, as demonstrated in the Boyz Noise remix which was released ahead of the film’s release. This aspect coupled with the sound design, which utilized long breaks between the film’s score tracks, made for an impeccable auditory experience.

Perhaps most impressive, is the cinematography of the film. It was shot by Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom who previously worked with Guadagnino on Call Me By Your Name and Suspiria, as well as working with M. Night Shyamalan on the upcoming film Trap

Challengers / Image Courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios
Challengers / Image Courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios

To be blunt, I adored the way the film was shot. Every new angle was something new to analyse and the third act had me on the edge of my seat from the cinematography alone, lots of interesting things were done in terms of perspective.

Despite the film being very good, it does come with its flaws, struggling to justify its slightly over-complicated timeline which admittedly, at times had me grappling to comprehend the order in which scenes played out. 

The film does manage to overcome this issue by the middle of the third act and it isn’t entirely present throughout the film, but there are moments where it slightly makes the film less full. I do appreciate it being told in a non-linear fashion though, because if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have made the film as tense and intriguing as it ended up being.

Not without its flaws, Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers provides a strong stable foundation with its lead trifecta of powerhouse performances and is only supported by impeccable technical aspects and Guadagnino’s signature style solidifying his status as an auteur director. 

'Challengers' Review: An Intense Rivalry Of The Senses
Challengers / Image Courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios

Challengers is directed by Luca Guadagnino and stars Zendaya as Tashi Duncan, Mike Faist as Art Donaldson and Josh O’Connor as Patrick Zweig. The film releases in US theatres on April 26th, 2024. Guadagnino’s next film, Queer, will be released later this year and stars Daniel Craig, Drew Starkey and Jason Schwartzman.

Thanks for reading this article! If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out some of our other editorials and breakdowns here at Feature First.

Zanda is the Editor-in-Chief of Feature First and oversees the publishing of the outlet and content of the social media pages. He is based in Queensland, Australia and may or may not have a life like cardboard cut-out of Ryan Gosling in his room. Zanda has been actively turning Feature First into a reliable and high quality entertainment outlet since 2023.