Fair Play

Newly engaged, Emily (Phoebe Dynevor, TV's 'Younger,' 'Bridgerton') and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich, "Solo: A Star Wars Story") are over the moon in love, but have to hide their relationship as a trader and analyst at One Crest Capital, a high turnover, high stakes hedge fund.  Hoping to go public when they’ve climbed higher up the ladder, Emily overhears a rumor Luke will be his recently fired boss’s successor, prompting much celebration, but when she gets the promotion instead, the relationship begins to implode in “Fair Play.”

Laura's Review: C+

Writer/director Chloe Domont (TV's 'Ballers,' 'Billions') makes her feature debut with a relationship thriller with loads of dramatic tension even as we can see exactly where it’s headed.  Unfortunately, once the inevitable happens, Domont takes things so over the top, and multiple times at that, that any impact her film had gets lost in the ludicrousness of her final act.  It is unfortunate that not one of Domont’s producers stepped in to rein her in, because what she has to say about long-held gender roles and expectations deserves exploration (Domont expresses sympathy for Luke, who acts reprehensibly in the film, because of the burden society has placed upon him.)

One cannot fault the actors here.  Dynevor and Ehrenreich are both asked to signal emotions opposite of what they outwardly declare and both are adept at doing so, Dynevor reticent about sharing news of her promotion and celebrating it, Ehrenreich expressing all the right supportive things while chafing against taking direction from his fiancée and undermining her achievement by constantly questioning her sexual allure to the top man, Campbell (Eddie Marsan, "Happy-Go-Lucky," TV's 'Ray Donovan').   The couple seen passionately making love in a bathroom during a wedding reception in the film’s opening moments, an unforeseen accident with menstrual blood forcing them to flee down a fire escape giggling, suffers a breakdown in trust, Emily learning things about Luke as she tries to help him up the ladder, Luke angered by her late night drinking binges with the boys.  Financial inequity is but another chink in the couple’s armor, Emily afraid to offer to put a down payment on a new apartment with her sizable commission check while criticizing Luke for spending $3K on a self help course.

Steve Summersgill’s production design is all the more notable when one learns the film was shot in Serbia, his NYC streets, work spaces and clubs completely convincing. This is one of the few films that depict NYC real estate reality, Luke and Emily’s apartment old-fashioned and modest in size, a contrast to cutaways of metal and glass skyscrapers.  Kate Forbes’ costume design is most notable in Emily’s ‘before and after,’ her chic and stylish white silk blouses replaced with Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes black turtleneck and copper-colored button ups after Luke calls her a ‘creampuff.’

Domont’s screenplay, though, is very problematic, that playful opening scene mirrored later on to regrettable effect.   Throughout, Domont escalates Emily’s anxiety with continual texts and phone calls from her mother (Harry Potter's mom, Geraldine Somerville) who is eager to spread the word about her engagement.  The thread seems extraneous, until we see Domont intends to use an unwanted NYC engagement party for further fireworks after Luke’s climactic office meltdown.  Not content with this pile on, Domont goes further, Emily spinning a story for Campbell that the character so indelibly portrayed by Marsan would never believe (but apparently does here).  And that’s not all, Emily supposedly coming into her own by threatening violence in retaliation for everything she’s suffered.        

“Fair Play” is a frustrating film, well acted (Marsan is a standout, with ‘Mad Men’s' Rich Sommer as his right hand and Sebastian De Souza as Emily’s former slimy boss) and fine looking.  Domont just didn’t know how to quit when she was ahead.

Robin's Review: C

Emily (Phoebe Gynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) are both on the fast track to promotion at a prestigious hedge fund investment firm. Their boyfriend/girlfriend relationship must be kept secret or lose their jobs. That does not stop them from becoming cutthroat competitors in “Fair Play.”

I do not know why, but watching “Fair Play” made me have a déjà vu moment, reminding me of “50 Shades of Gray (2015).” Maybe it is the vapid stars without much personality and a lot of sex. Mix that with the aggressive and competitive hedge fund company that crunches number and promotes its employees for their ruthlessness and the combo is more sleazy than entertaining.

Things start off with the idyllic romance between Emily and Luke, They are engaged and live together, even though it is a company no-no, and keep it a deep dark secret. The corporate rumor mill has it that Luke is up for the next big promotion and all looks like it is coming up roses for him. Then, the totally unexpected happens – Emily gets the big promotion, not him.
This is where “:Fair Play” goes from the predictable with the couple keeping their secret while the new job demands frequently take her away, more and more, from Luke. Of course, jealousy and envy raise their ugly heads and color the tone of rising distrust. Luke’s paranoia and need for revenge also plays out on the corporate stage.

In this Hollywood fable, Emily is both the protagonist, standing by Luke and even pulling strings to get him his much-wanted promotion, and the antagonist. While professing her support for her fiancé (which is on shaky ground), she is loving the power, money and attention her new job comes with. You can predict the level of meltdown coming up.

Acting is not the strong suit here. The characters are two-dimensional, at best, with no notable performances. Even the always reliable Eddie Marsen, as the ruthless head corporate honcho, seems to phone in his performance. There should be some redeeming factor for a film like “Fair Play “but there is not. The movie looks good, at least.

Netflix is releasing "Fair Play" into theaters for one week on 9/29/23.  It begins streaming on their platform on 10/6/23.