'Fair Play' Review
February 2, 2023
Fair Play premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Netflix will release the film on its streaming platform this year.
Netflix must have had big Promising Young Woman prospects when spending a festival-record $20 million on writer/director Chloe Domont's debut feature, Fair Play. Fennell's 2020 Oscar-winning film has laid the path for similarly biting films to gain recognition, and Domont follows close to that model with her thrilling examination of gender politics and relationships within the corporate world. But while Fair Play is quite provocative with its mixture of sex and violence, much of it comes to its detriment when the credibility of its authenticity comes into question during the third-act climax.
Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) are the usual extremely-motivated Wall Street up-and-comers that you've come to expect. Along with their undying motivation for their careers, they also can't take a break from each other. Their physical passion is unmatched, evidenced by an impromptu hookup in the bathroom at Luke's brother's wedding, which Luke wildly takes as an opportunity to propose.
Despite now proving their undying love for each other in private, they must keep their relationship a secret in public, as they both work for the same high-stakes hedge fund where office romance is strictly forbidden. The couple makes it work most of the time, professionally speaking to each other and only passing glances when no one is looking. But all bets are off when a senior employee is fired and his position is up for grabs. The pair must juggle their ambitions with their loyalty to each other, along with keeping their indiscretions under the rug.
Domont depicts the world of high finance as a pressure cooker that melts even the brightest people down into monsters. If Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street (smartly) glorified the life of wheeling and dealing, Fair Play offers a sobering reality. A glaring Eddie Marsan sits in his corner office, ready to berate his employees at any moment. The underlings are constantly pitted against each other, with loyalty disintegrated whenever the slightest hint of upward mobility comes into play.
Emily and Luke initially try their best to sidestep the rat race, with each offering the usual "may the best man win" rhetoric. But when Luke makes that statement, he means it literally, as it slowly starts to dawn on Emily that he sees a significant difference between them based on their gender.
Ehrenreich brings that toxic alpha-male energy to Luke. He's someone that says all the right things to your face (usually laced with an unhealthy amount of curse words), but you know he doesn't believe any of it. This is a world where the man usually gets what he wants, and their inflated egos come crashing down when they’re "unfairly" passed over. Domont doesn’t portray Emily as a saintly female in a sea of testosterone, with Dynevor, already a Netflix star through Bridgerton, packing a hard edge in her performance. There are no heroes in this story, only those that get their hands dirty and those that get them dirtier.
The carnal influence of Adrian Lyne (who marked any unceremonious return last year with Deep Water) is apparent, with Domont blending the dower and gleeful to semi-positive results. There's a hearty (and unhealthy) amount of excitement you get out of people taking down one another, even if the reasoning behind all of it is morally corrupt. Things do come off the rails alarmingly quickly during the climax when the theatricality of the situation greatly overpowers the reality. The messaging is obvious in volume, but a bit murky in tone, leaving things not as nicely wrapped as the presentation would signal.