The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

Write for Us
Want your voice to be heard? Submit a letter to the editor, send us an op-ed pitch or check out our open positions for the chance to be published by the Daily Utah Chronicle.
@TheChrony
Print Issues
Write for Us
Want your voice to be heard? Submit a letter to the editor, send us an op-ed pitch or check out our open positions for the chance to be published by the Daily Utah Chronicle.
@TheChrony

‘Challengers’: Too Ballsy To Lose

Luca Guadagnino’s newest film is creative, exciting and sweaty.
Credit%3A+Metro+Goldwyn+Mayer+Pictures+%C2%A9+2023+Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer+Pictures+Inc.+All+Rights+Reserved.
Credit: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

If one word could describe the filmography of Italian director Luca Guadagnino, it would be “sensual.”

From “Call Me By Your Name” to “Bones and All,” Guadagnino’s movies have always had a deep interest in the body and mind. With detailed sound and a focus on touch, his films force viewers to become uncomfortably close to his characters. In Guadagnino’s stories, every moment, private or public, is seen. They are raw and real, but never loud or visceral. In walks “Challengers.”

Within seconds, audiences are greeted by a tight close-up of Mike Faist in slow-motion, glistening with sweat. A quarter-sized droplet flies across the frame as choir music overpowers the sound mix. “Challengers” takes no time informing viewers it will be personal, eccentric and over-the-top.

“Challengers” chronicles the story of three tennis players, Tashi, Art and Patrick, as they become intertwined in a messy love triangle. With aspirations on and off the court, the three are pitted against each other in a game of deception and determination.  

Beautiful, Wild Drama

While a steamy sports drama about two men chasing after Zendaya is bound to be somewhat extravagant, what makes “Challengers” a truly wild ride is Guadagnino’s audacious filmmaking.

At times it feels as if Guadagnino wanted to try something different for every scene. Sometimes these choices are noticeable but not in your face, like filming entirely from a worm’s eye view. Other times, these choices are aggressive like shooting a tennis match with the camera in the POV of the ball. Not all of these choices work, but with how many crazy ideas are thrown at the wall, it’s hard not to love a few. 

Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom shoots the film with a dream-like style, making the movie look crisp and soft simultaneously. Colors pop throughout. Whether it’s the warm pastels our characters wear in their happier years or the cold, muted shades that define their darker present, these decisions help elevate the story, giving the world a familiar yet cinematic feel and informing the audience of our character’s mental states.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have possibly created their best score since “The Social Network,” taking cues from past work and crafting a new, energetic techno-trance soundtrack. Guadagnino often lets the music drown out all other sounds, letting the score and images on screen drive the story like an out-of-control luxury car. By the 12th time he does this, it becomes a bit tiresome, but for the first few instances, it feels like a shot of adrenaline. A few quieter, more haunting pieces also appear, tinting the narrative with a mysterious, almost sinister aura. 

(L to R) Mike Faist as Art, Zendaya as Tashi and Josh O’Connor as Patrick in CHALLENGERS, directed by Luca Guadagnino, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Shock and Awe

The story is told non-chronologically, volleying back and forth between different eras of our characters. This ends up being both a positive and a negative for the film, as it makes the narrative twistier but drags out the film’s length.

Jumping between the past and present, scandalous revelations are sprinkled throughout the runtime, creating a sense of secrecy around every turn. For example, a private conversation leads one character to inquire if the husband of the other character “knows about Atlanta?” Later when a title card that reads “Three Years Earlier, Atlanta” appears on screen, the audience leans in knowing something juicy is about to happen. This also creates somewhat of a mystery aspect to the narrative, with new discoveries recontextualizing earlier scenes and acting choices. The viewer begins to build a timeline in their head that helps build the stakes of the film’s final tennis match.

“Challengers” may attempt to juggle too many themes within its runtime but it all manages to resonate. Zendaya’s stone-cold demeanor as Tashi paints what obsession in the world of professional sports looks like. As she puppeteers the men at her feet in pursuit of her only passion in life, Tashi becomes less empathetic but more engaging. Her lack of trustworthiness makes her a perfect lead for this dramatic tale.

Faist and Josh O’Connor are great individually but best paired with each other on screen. Faist has the more subdued performance playing Art, the most redeemable character out of the three leads. A tragedy hangs over Art, a character broken down by others using his passion for tennis to hurt him. O’Connor as Patrick is the biggest performance, constantly manipulative and flirty, particularly with Art. The scenes between the two build the film’s homoerotic undertones, adding an unexpected layer to the love triangle. 

“Challengers” is as if a tabloid magazine was written by the top journalists of today. The film lives up to the sexy story sold in the trailers while also delivering some of the best cinematography and sound design of the year. Although it attempts to carry too much creatively and thematically, it refrains from ever being boring. Calling it Guadagnino’s best film may be up for debate but it’s certainly his most creative, exciting and sweaty. 

 

[email protected]

@grahamcool8

View Comments (1)
About the Contributor
Graham Jones
Graham Jones, Assistant Arts Editor
Graham Jones was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and moved to Utah to study film. Despite his passion for cinema, Graham joined the Chronicle to engage with the University of Utah community and pursue his love for journalism. Outside of the student media office, Graham can be found buried deep into the pages of a graphic novel or lip-syncing to the greatest hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Comments (1)

The Daily Utah Chronicle welcomes comments from our community. However, the Daily Utah Chronicle reserves the right to accept or deny user comments. A comment may be denied or removed if any of its content meets one or more of the following criteria: obscenity, profanity, racism, sexism, or hateful content; threats or encouragement of violent or illegal behavior; excessively long, off-topic or repetitive content; the use of threatening language or personal attacks against Chronicle members; posts violating copyright or trademark law; and advertisement or promotion of products, services, entities or individuals. Users who habitually post comments that must be removed may be blocked from commenting. In the case of duplicate or near-identical comments by the same user, only the first submission will be accepted. This includes comments posted across multiple articles. You can read more about our comment policy here.
All The Daily Utah Chronicle Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • J

    Jimmy BuccinoApr 24, 2024 at 11:04 am

    Yep, alright slick.

    Reply