Fair Play is now streaming on Netflix.
At first glance, Fair Play looks like a tepid erotic drama about a financial powerhouse couple keeping their engagement a secret. Once it finds its feet, however, it becomes a wicked thriller about fractured egos and awkward power dynamics. Writer-director Chloe Domont’s feature debut sometimes collapses under its own immense weight and dramatic density, but it’s ugly and gripping in all the best ways, maintaining a sense of free fall , while putting its fearless lead performance front and center.
Dormont introduces us to Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) and Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) at a family wedding, through a drama that involves oral sex, menstrual blood, and one totally right encounter with A comedy of errors in a proposal gone wrong. Despite the public restroom setting, it was surprisingly sweet and intimate. While the film never fully establishes their sexual dynamic with anything resembling rapacious passion, their giggles and giddies about their engagement are charming enough as a virginal teenage couple on their first night together. Regardless of intent, it was an interesting enough baseline that the contrast in their professional routines the next morning hit like bricks. At dawn, they left their cramped New York apartments and arrived at the offices of the same ruthless hedge fund, where they both worked as analysts, trading and shorting various stocks, always maintaining a professional demeanor with each other.
fair play gallery
When a coveted position opens up (and a fancy corner office), Luke is rumored to be next in line. However, after Emily is called into a late-night meeting with deadpan boss Campbell (played by the terrifying Eddie Marsan), she ends up getting the position. Luke was of course stunned – both of them were – and although he was clearly disappointed, he tried to be supportive. However, cracks soon begin to appear in their relationship, exacerbated by Luke’s inability to properly express their concerns and his wounded pride, now unable to control himself as he works directly under Emily.
For long stretches of the film’s 115-minute first half, it feels like Domont and cinematographer Menno Manns don’t know where to focus their shots during silent moments. The frame seems to move with purpose, just to reveal whatever is surrounding the characters. It’s oddly distracting, bordering on amateurish – that is, until things suddenly kick up a notch, leaving little room to breathe and hang out. As the couple’s personal and professional lives collide, mutual resentment builds, eventually taking a surprising form: Although “Fair Play” is a family drama, it’s also a workplace thriller that often requires Millions of dollars are on the line. The film never goes into detail about its financial details, but it sets every decision against the dramatic backdrop of the inevitable conflict between the couple’s public and private lives, whose secrecy is a constant threat. with their careers.
Dynevor is a very capable actress who navigates the testosterone-fuelled ladder of Wall Street with the necessary seduction and fear (the film is largely self-aware of the toxicity of its “girlboss” musings , in such a corrupt financial environment). What occasionally slows down the film’s progress, however, is the relatively simple concept of Emily, whose existence is largely defined by external parameters: her relationships, her job, her boss, and so on. On the one hand, it feels like a sly commentary on women being forced to navigate the male-dominated corporate world, but the character’s dramatic framework often feels incomplete. While her interiority is defined in overtly cinematic terms—the meaning of her gaze is created through editing of the people and things she looks at—close-ups of Emily herself reveal little About who she is beneath the surface.
Neither Luke nor Emily seem to have perspectives, interests, or opinions outside of work and each other, although this could also be read as a self-reflexive comment on the corporate rat race. The main difference is the way Dormont shot and directed Ehrenreich’s performance. The way he quietly simmers and simmers is compelling, creating a palpable tension that casts a layer of fog over Luke and Emily’s relationship that neither of them can put into words. He’s a ticking dramatic time bomb that’s exploding, and watching Ehrenreich slowly but surely get to that stage is exciting and crazy in itself. This feeling is also enhanced by the film’s masterful sound design, which makes every mundane setting feel uneven, whether it’s casual conversation in the workplace or a romantic partner walking around the house.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about Fair Play is the way it turns words into weapons, giving its protagonist a chance to consider every exchange and react in all the wrong ways. It’s a shockingly disarming portrait of a relationship on the verge of collapse, including bedroom power dynamics blurred by a lack of communication. While its eventual ending may be too moralistic for a movie and is therefore messy and complicated, “Fair Play” stands out as one of the rare modern Hollywood thrillers in which the stakes come down entirely to personal terms, thanks to A masterful piece of heightened awareness from a first-time filmmaker is likely to be worth paying attention to.