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April 26, 2024 / Warner Bros. Pictures Canada

Starring: Zendaya, Josh O'Connor, Mike Faist

Directed By: Luca Guadagnino

Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), a former teenage tennis phenom is now a coach. She's taken her husband, Art (Mike Faist), and transformed him from a mediocre player into a world-famous grand slam champion.

To jolt him out of his recent losing streak, she has him play a "Challenger" event — close to the lowest level of tournament on the pro tour — where he finds himself standing across the net from the once-promising, now burnt-out Patrick (Josh O'Connor): his former best friend and Tashi's former boyfriend. Tensions run high on and off the court as old flames are reignited, competition builds, and love and careers hang in the balance; it's anyone's game.

Written By Darren Zakus

Rating 5 out of 5

Challengers is a cinematic grand slam for Luca Guadagnino that serves up one seductive and thrilling experience thanks to the outstanding performances of Zendaya, Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor, all set to a hypnotic musical score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross!

Luca Guadagnino has graduated from peaches to tennis balls, serving up one of the steamiest experiences you will have at a cinema this year. It’s a profound piece of storytelling that harkens back to the erotic films of the 1990s, unleashing a whirlwind of passion, temptation, ambition and betrayal in the professional world of tennis that is as visually exciting as it is seductive. Guadagnino flexes his talents as a director, delivering a true ace that not only lets his insanely talented cast shine with some of the best performances of the year, but is bound to set the world on fire with its kinetic sexual tension.

Even though the film is set within the world of competitive, professional tennis, tennis is merely a conduit for this seductive love triangle at the centre of the story to play out. Writer Justin Kuritzkes never for a second holds back, conjuring up one magnetic and horny experience while developing an engaging and character centric story. Using the tennis match between Art and Patrick, Kuritzkes slowly unravels the characters’ past and their complicated relationship as the match progresses. With each additional game that is won, the tension builds as the messy triangle between Tashi, Art and Patrick unravels and the palpable sexual chemistry between them washes over you (and it’s not just in THAT scene but throughout the entire film). It may appear to those attending the match that this is one exciting matching of talent on the court, but for the audience who knows the stakes for each character, it becomes a heart pounding experience that you can’t take your eyes off of. And with each shocking reveal along the way, it ensures that Kuritzkes final act lands an absolute ace that may just having you jumping in your seat in shock, holding your breath, and will leave you both speechless and flustered as you try to decide whether you are Team Art or Team Patrick (though I am adamantly Team Art!) and revel in the madness of that perfect ending.

At the centre of Challengers are the performances of Zendaya, Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor, and the three of them are one powerhouse trio! Zendaya continues to slay with one powerful performance as she orchestrates a game between Faist’s Art and O’Connor’s Patrick that not only makes the two of them compete for her character, but sets off a chain reaction of events that threatens to destroy all three of their lives. There are moments where she does not have to utter a word where a single look from Zendaya says so much, being simultaneously playful and lethal, while the most dramatic moments of the film truly let her shine as an actress. It’s further proof that this is Zendaya’s world and we are just living in it. O’Connor is riveting as Patrick, creating an undeniable sympathy for his character to begin with; but as the back story of his character is slowly revealed, O’Connor kicks his performance into overdrive as he unleashes a villainous side to his character as he toys with Art and the audience. But, it is Faist who stands out as Art. While Faist leads you to believe that Art is egotistical and self centered, he quickly flips the tables and bears a vulnerability that instantly makes you feel Art’s heartbreak and emotional torture with the situation he finds himself trapped in. As a trio, the chemistry between Zendaya, Faist and O’Connor is off the charts, simultaneously heating up the screen with some steamy moments and delivering a highly competitive rivalry that will tear them apart. Each performance is awards worthy, and I truly hope the film is remembered this winter when it’s time for voters to make their nominations.

While it is the story and performances of Zendaya, Faist and O’Connor that are heating up the film, Guadagnino matches their talents with a visual and sensory experience that puts the audience into the middle of the tennis match. Rather than framing the tennis sequences like live broadcasts do, Guadagnino situates the audience through the perspective of Art and Patrick as the ball hurtles towards them across the court. The final act’s match set serves up a tour de force experience that while disorienting at times, invigorates the sport unlike any other way you have ever experienced it on screen with unique and breathtaking shots and exceptional editing. The expert sound design ensures that not only do you hear every bounce of the ball and moment of contact with the tennis racket, but allows it to pulsate through the theatre’s sound system to make you feel like you are playing the match yourself. This extends off the court as Guadagnino has camera movement mimic the volleying of a tennis ball during heated moments between our lead characters, keeping the game of tennis and this complex love triangle alive and exploding across the screen at every moment. And amplifying it all is one bombastic, pulsating and entrancing musical score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross! With every emotion twist and turn, Reznor and Ross’s electronic musical score channels the tension, heightened emotions and passion between the characters, elevating your heartbeat throughout the film as if you were partying in a nightclub. It all works together to ensure that the film’s final moments will leave you breathless, creating an unparalleled experience in the genre of sports movies.

By the time the final act begins, it is evident that Challengers is a game, set and match for Luca Guadagnino. In every aspect of the film, it’s a magnificent piece of storytelling that completely snares the audience’s attention as this steamy love triangle unfolds on screen that is sure to raise your heart beat for many reasons throughout and leave you speechless when the screen cuts to black and the credits begin rolling. Led by the sensational performances of Zendaya, Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor, Challengers hits with a wicked backhand that boasts a seductive and enthralling screenplay from Justin Kuritzkes brought to life by outstanding cinematography, bombastic sound design and one of the best musical scores from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to date, serving up true grand slam that is destined to be one of the year’s best films!

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