Review: 'Fair Play' Shines an Erotic Light on Gender Dynamics in a High-Stakes Corporate Environment
"If I can't make you cry, I'm going to make you bleed."
Power and influence are tricky concepts; no two people understand it better than Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich). The two leads of "Fair Play" are madly in love, piping hot for one another in bathroom stalls, and secretly carry on a relationship while both work for a respected hedge fund firm. Cutthroat to the maximum degree, their firm causes the two to hide their feelings for each other until they return to their shared apartment in the New York City skyline. They get engaged and mull over how to talk to Human Resources about a torrid affair turned proposed matrimony.
Emily is the only female analyst on a team of men, which includes her newly minted fiancée, Luke. The lovebirds hear rumors that Luke will be promoted, thrusting the two to celebrate early with a sex scene that could make Adrian Lyne blush. Then, all of a sudden, Emily is summoned for drinks with a coworker at midnight, only to find their boss, Campbell (Eddie Marsan), at the bar, who promotes her over Luke. Initially, Luke is thrilled with the news and dismisses the idea that Emily doesn't deserve the promotion…but not all is well in Luke Land from here on out.
Luke and Emily's relationship devolves and unravels slowly. What was once a white-hot liaison comes crashing down upon the weight of Luke's male fragility. From a bird's eye view, he might seem like an understanding and supportive love interest, but the hatred and jealousy stirring inside him soon boils to the surface in unexpected ways. Emily doesn't know how to handle Luke's newfound envy and attempts to help him succeed at work, but this makes the beast madder and more frustrated. Her all-night partying with their boss and other corporate leaders doesn't help matters much, either.
Luke becomes convinced that the only way Emily was promoted is that she slept her way to the top, going against his feminist ideals. In a world where it's kill or be killed, Luke takes a survivalist approach and tries to sabotage his loved one's dreams daily. It's cruel, unfounded, and full of rage, but he can't seem to let it go. Threatened by her success, violence enters the picture, and Luke will stop at nothing to keep his position at the prestigious firm.
"Fair Play" is the erotic thriller the 1990s taught us about, and filmmakers today seem to have forgotten. Chloe Dumont's feature film directorial debut is nothing short of masterful in presenting corporate greed and what it takes to get ahead in a finance-bro universe. Gender politics are at the forefront of this dynamic film, equipped with a foundational purpose of reflecting white men who believe they deserve something just because they show up. The two main characters become unrecognizable as the film progresses, much to the dismay of an audience willing to root for their success rather than applaud Luke's failure.
Dynevor and Ehrenreich make for a seductively astounding pair of professionals at the top of their acting game. It has been a long time since we've seen a true battle royale of equals boxing each other with disastrous blows, one right after the other. As Luke's fragility becomes ever-present and the couple's relationship takes a nose dive in the face of significant financial gain, the film echoes master strokes of ambition and razor-sharp writing. The film projects danger before it's clear how much of a guilty pleasure it is watching these two actors go toe-to-toe with one another.
"Fair Play" shows how several wrong moves can make a fool out of major players in the financial game, while gender dynamics play an essential role in determining who deserves what in a ruthless environment. Power shifts, suspenseful backstabbing, massive amounts of alcohol consumption, the breaking down of a sexual relationship, and bucking traditional structures all play a hand in this film's poker game.
It is dark, disturbing, and all-around fascinating to watch how far someone will go to hold onto their audacity.
Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟🎟1/2