Tuesday 25 June 2024

Challengers (2024)

A film all about tennis, except that it’s not really all about tennis. It’s all about sex, obsession, and power. But it’s also about tennis.

Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor play Art and Patrick, two tennis players who used to be very good friends. Their lives have gone in very different directions, however, and now Art is a pro trying to recover his form while Patrick is trying to win enough money to keep himself able to buy non-luxury items, like food. Both end up in a challenger tournament, and both end up playing against one another, observed by Tashi (Zendaya). Tasha is married to Art, but she is also very familiar with Patrick. Things may become messy and complicated, but it’s important to remember that this film is set in a world of tennis . . . where love equals zero.

Written by Justin Kuritzkes, his first major screenplay, this is a vibrant and steamy look at people who are pushing one another in different directions, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The material is elevated by Luca Gaudagnino’s electric direction, and a strange score from Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor that sometimes fits the visuals, but also sometimes just feels a bit jarring, yet now in a way that spoils the marriage between sight and sound.

The cast also help, absolutely fantastic in roles that allow them to relish being single-minded and fairly unpleasant for most of the runtime. Faist feels like the weakest of the three characters (in his nature, not in his performance), but his journey remains an intriguing one. O’Connor has more hunger in his eyes, although he also has some obvious failings that have held him back over the years. And then there’s Zendaya, casting a large shadow over these two men in a way that they don’t even fully realise until it is too late. Her turn here is wonderfully gritty and dispassionate, portraying someone who has decided to put all of her energy and effort into the career of someone else after her own dream came to a very sudden end.

Told in a non-chronological way, my main criticism is that there are some time jumps that feel a bit unnecessary, although everything becomes clear as you get used to the structure of the film. It feels like the right way to have done things though, especially by the time we get to a brilliantly satisfying finale. Momentum builds, camerawork is dizzyingly brilliant, and there’s a proper crescendo before everything ends, as should be the way of any great tennis match.

I wouldn’t say this is the best film for anyone involved, apart from Kuritzkes (so far), but it’s very good stuff. It’s sweaty, sexy, strange, and occasionally surprising. It’s certainly one of the best films about tennis that I can think of, despite it not really being about tennis.


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  1. It's fine with me if it's not about tennis. The closest I've come to playing that is Wii Tennis. If they really wanted something more in the moment they could have used pickleball.

    1. I used to love some Wii Tennis. And some of the bowling.