Sex and money and greed in the cutthroat corporate world of New York City. Writer-director Chloe Domont’s fiery new adult thriller “Fair Play” is the kind of NYC white-knuckle film where people in expensive suits engage in backstabbing and carnal knowledge; the type of subject matter that would make director Adrian Lyne proud.
We first meet up and comers Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) at a wedding. As they sneak off to have sex in a bathroom, an incident causes the need for clean-up and a ring falls out of Luke’s pocket. An impromptu proposal happens and the two confess their undying love for one another. The world of romance is their oyster. Ain’t life grand.
The two lovebirds are hot for one another to be sure, but, eventually l, it is the selling of their skills to the finance company that employs them that truly gets their juices flowing. Power and recognition are the real aphrodisiacs.
When an important promotion (that Emily “knew” would go to Luke) goes to Emily, the fuses are lit and a tinderbox of jealousy, betrayal, and vicious gender politics is set aflame.
Domont’s screenplay keeps Emily and Luke’s spiral on the harshest of tracks. As the couple becomes obsessed with getting to the top, each one begins to discover (and embrace) the monster inside them. Greed for anything can invite the Mr. Hyde in all of us.
Dynevor and Ehrenreich are in full command of their roles. Emily’s shrewd determination balances her love for Luke. The actress strikingly inhabits this sweet woman in love who becomes intoxicated by the very world chauvinistic “frat boy” workplace culture that disgusts her, making Emily the strongest of hypocrites.
It was a smart move for Domont to allow her two main characters to be completely flawed. Her screenplay didn’t let them get away clean, which adds a realism that the actors can latch onto, where many of today’s films feel the need to give even the cruelest of characters some type of redemptive quality.
Domont isn’t afraid to show the darker sides of what we assume are decent people.
Ehrenreich’s performance walks the same fine balance. Luke is also a loving guy but, as events unfold, proves himself as selfish and aggressive as Emily. He is sickened by watching his fiancé swim feel in this pool of repulsive sharks. The performance is a reminder of what an undervalued talent Ehrenreich truly is.
Visually complimenting Emily and Luke’s downward trajectory is the dark Gordon Willis-styled cinematography from Menno Mans. The camerawork more than hints at the ethical and moral downfalls that loom over Emily and Luke and keeps a grim cloud over the entire picture.
The film begins to go wrong as it reaches its conclusion. After much of the film promises to subvert the gender battles with its reactionary portrayal of emasculation and power dynamics in a business world ruled by men, the film seems to become overly mean and savage, just to have somewhere to go.
For much of the film, the screenplay is so strong and sets us up for something potent, but the denouement finds itself with nothing more to say while the finale scene feels like a betrayal of all that came before.
The performances are strong in “Fair Play” and the screenplay is well written and daring for some time, until it becomes a disconnected array of violent outbursts that are designed to elicit a visceral reaction, rather than raise any real moral quandaries.
The 2023 Sundance Festival takes place January 19-29.