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Challengers

Challengers

Any movie that can make tennis look interesting is a win in my book.

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I wasn't really sure what to think about Challengers going in. Like I'd imagine the case is for most of you, my experience with the film before buying my ticket and sitting down at my local theater was seeing that viral moment from the trailer where Zendaya watches the leading gentlemen kiss with all the satisfaction of a cat who has just managed to trick its owner into getting two separate dinners.

So, what is Challengers about? Well, it is a tennis movie, in a way, but really it's about three people: Art (Mike Faist), Patrick (Josh O'Connor) and Tashi (Zendaya). They have - in some cases knowingly and in others unknowingly - all shaped each other's lives and careers in the world of pro tennis. Almost every major event that we see in Challengers has already happened, but like an ogre or an onion we're left to peel back the layers bit by bit over the course of a multitude of flashbacks while the main story takes place over the course of the most intense game of tennis I have ever seen.

Challengers wields its tension incredibly well. In the moments where you don't know what's going to happen, if a secret is going to be found out or if something is finally going to snap, you're forced to pay attention, and from there you'll notice and remember details that prove crucial later on. It's a very well told story, one that doesn't drag throughout the film's somewhat lengthy runtime nor does it ever feel too artsy, as if it's trying to go over the audience's head. At its core, it's a story of relationships, how they can make and mostly break you. That doesn't mean your typical romantic relationship, by the way, as I'm not really sure any one of the pairings in Challengers can be described as romantic, except maybe the two lads.

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Seriously, Art and Patrick have some incredible chemistry on screen, and O'Connor and Faist can't be praised enough for their ability to create what genuinely feels like a lifelong friendship over the course of a couple of hours. Zendaya is outstanding too, as you've probably heard, bringing a level of nuance to a performance that we've not yet seen from her, which seems strange considering how talented she is. The performances of these three really could carry the film on their own, but by no means are they Challengers' only strength.

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The cinematography and sound in Challengers is excellent, especially regarding the former. The latter's synth and funky beats really keep you interested during a lot of the tennis sequences, and even if you're not a fan they can get you hyped to see who manages to get the ball on the other side of the court. Going back to the cinematography, though, Challengers isn't afraid to take some risks when it comes to certain shots. There's a sequence that follows the ball during a rally, which could have come across as goofy if it wasn't handled well. However, in the moment that it's used, it only serves to fuel the ever-building nail-biting tension throughout. Besides the famous tennis ball sequence, though, there are plenty of moments that made me geek out a bit about the way Challengers was shot. Every camera angle, every moment tells us something about the characters and the story in a brilliant example of showing without telling. Patrick pulling a stool just a bit closer to him so Art in turn gets a little bit closer, for example, which is then followed by the churro moment.

My enjoyment of Challengers was hampered by two things. The first was that during the screening I got a bad bout of cramp in my foot. Horrible pain, really, and I couldn't really relieve it. Usually, I'd stand up, but that would look a bit strange if I just stood there. I thought about faking a bathroom trip, but I really didn't want to miss a moment, and so I just suffered in silence for a while until the pain went away. Woe is me. The second takeaway from the perfect score was that the film does feel a tad overly indulgent. Luca Guadagnino seemed unable to help himself at times, especially towards the end, which made me feel like it insisted upon itself a tad too much. Otherwise, Challengers is one of the best films I've seen this year. Saucy, uncompromising, and packed with drama that'll have you gossiping as if Zendaya is a person you know, it's a wild ride from start to finish.

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09 Gamereactor UK
9 / 10
+
Outstanding performances, great soundtrack, brilliantly shot, nuanced writing
-
Insists upon itself towards the end, indulges too much
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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Challengers

Challengers

MOVIE REVIEW. Written by Alex Hopley

Any movie that can make tennis look interesting is a win in my book.



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