THE STORY – Hot off the heels of their new engagement, thriving New York couple Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) can’t get enough of each other. When a coveted promotion at a cutthroat financial firm arises, supportive exchanges between the lovers begin to sour into something more sinister. As the power dynamics irrevocably shift in their relationship, Luke and Emily must face the true price of success and the unnerving limits of ambition.
THE CAST – Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich & Eddie Marsan
THE TEAM – Chloe Domont (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 113 Minutes
Ever since Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street,” audiences have been intrigued by films about the world of finance. The protagonists of these films are solely motivated by corporate greed and blinded by their ambition. Most of all, these characters are willing to betray anyone to get ahead. There’s an edge to this industry that is only appealing when projected on a screen. With her thrilling feature directorial debut, Chloe Domont taps into this grimy appeal with “Fair Play,” an erotic psychological drama that happens to take place in one of the least romantic, coldest industries where emotions need to be kept at bay. Still, the high-pressure stakes occasionally, as seen in this film, make them heat up to a scorching boiling point.
“Fair Play” follows the relationship of young analysts Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (“Solo: A Star Wars Story’s” Alden Ehrenreich), who get engaged at the start of the film. They appear to be the perfect couple. They live together in a nice New York apartment. They are both young, happy, and enjoy each other sexually. Most of all, Emily and Luke both have promising careers at one of the most prestigious hedge funds in New York. The only downside is that they are forced to keep their relationship a secret from their co-workers and superiors (the main one played by terrific character actor Eddie Marsan whose steely restraint can cut through anyone’s supposed tough exterior and leave them bleeding out). When a promotion at the firm goes toward Emily instead of Luke, they are forced to reconsider certain aspects of their relationship.
What ensues throughout the film is a relationship struggling to balance a fine line between romantic desire and corporate professionalism. You see these characters slowly slip into their worst traits, not only as partners but as individuals. Dynevor and Ehrenreich are electric together on screen. Coming off the heels of her breakout role in “Bridgerton,” Dynevor is magnificent, conveying a varying range of emotions. For the most part, Ehrenreich plays the more reserved role that is constantly having to internalize so much rage and disgust. However, as the story progresses, his emotions take over, resulting in an absolutely volcanic performance of toxic masculinity, insecurity, and anger. At the same time, Dynevor walks a fine line between aligning us with Emily’s side of the matter and pushing us away due to her own outlandish behavior as the more volatile things become. These performances constantly build off one another, culminating to a point of no return. Dynevor and Ehrenreich are done a huge favor by having a talent like Domont guide them to exactly where they need to go. It never comes off as melodramatic or overdone, despite constant fears that the material will push the characters there. Every glance, gesture, insult, and action feels so sincere yet calculated in nature that by the time we get to the film’s ending, and it feels as if the chaotic emotions of the characters are about to go over the edge, Domont ends on the absolute right moment, pushing the audience as far as we could go just as much as she’s pushed her characters.
The screenplay by Domont is more than a surface-level romantic drama. This is a razor-sharp commentary on gendered power dynamics in a post #MeToo movement. The screenplay shows how women have to constantly fight against the male-dominated workplace and the social stigmas that follow it. Lucy (Dynevor) experiences all types of harassment from not only her superiors but even her own partner, at first subliminally and then more overtly. She must constantly prove to the men (who are less qualified than her) in her workspace why she is worthy of respect in her field. Domont also tackles the concept of male fragility and internalized misogyny through Ehrenreich’s character. While other filmmakers would have found this a daunting task, Domont balances all these topics effortlessly, providing us with a thrilling pot-boiler in the process. The screenplay is consistently engaging, taking many unexpected turns, with most of the character’s actions feeling true to who they are, despite the story going to some dark places. For some, it might feel like the film is pushing itself further than it really needs to go. The drama escalates to a point where some viewers may feel Domont is trying to one-up herself with each passing scene past the point of believability. Thankfully, it never comes off as grating much to the film’s benefit.
It is highly impressive that this is Domont’s directorial debut. She not only brings out the best in her actors but also knows how to accentuate the themes of her screenplay through some taut direction. It could have been easy to have your two leads shout their way throughout the film. Instead, “Fair Play” is a crock pot of tension, never relenting till the credits roll. Also, every stylistic choice feels so fully realized. The film’s editing is slick and to the point, as you never feel like the pacing is inconsistent. You are equally as engaged in a passive-aggressive conversation between the two leads in their apartment after a long day as you are with them trying to compete in the workplace under the guise of their professional relationship versus their personal one. It makes for an incredibly sharp viewing experience for an almost two-hour-long film with slick cinematography that showcases New York in all its urban glory and an electronic and industrial score from Brian McOmber, that will remind you of the score used in the television series “Industry.” Funnily also enough about the cutthroat world of finance.
“Fair Play” has everything you could want in a film. It’s sexy, dangerous, thrilling, dramatic, and emotionally involved, with two outstanding lead performances, dynamic direction, and an excellent screenplay that delivers intelligent social commentary. Recently acquired by Netflix out of Sundance, “Fair Play” is very much a film people will be talking about throughout the year.