Running Time: 113 mins
UK Distributor: Netflix
UK Release Date: 6 October 2023
WHO’S IN FAIR PLAY?
Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, Eddie Marsan, Rich Sommer, Sebastian de Souza, Geraldine Somerville
WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?
Chloe Domont (director, writer), Leopold Hughes, Ben LeClair, Allan Mandelbaum, Tim White and Trevor White (producers), Brian McOmber (composer), Menno Mans (cinematographer), Franklin Peterson (editor)
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
A couple (Dynevor and Ehrenreich) working together at a hedge fund is rocked by an unexpected promotion…
WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON FAIR PLAY?
Films set in the complex world of finance often tend to know that the majority of their audience won’t know what the hell their characters are talking about, so they tend to find accessible avenues through which to easily convey their incessant stock market lingo. This has included The Big Short having Margot Robbie explain shorting and sub-prime loans to the viewer whilst in a bubble bath, and the more recent Dumb Money reducing the drama surrounding the GameStop short squeeze into a conventional David-vs-Goliath drama.
Fair Play, however, takes a slightly different approach that is much more eye-opening (yes, more than Margot Robbie in a bubble bath). The feature debut of writer-director Chloe Domont – who has worked on episodes of several shows like Billions, Suits, Star Trek: Discovery and Ballers – positions the cutthroat financial world as a catalyst for the devastating and shocking disintegration of a romantic relationship, with its unforgiving nature kickstarting a battle of the sexes that becomes more tense and even disturbing as it goes along.
Domont’s film is about Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich), a newly-engaged couple who are deeply in love with one another, and whose sex drive with one another is as passionate as they come (no pun intended). They are also co-workers at a top-end New York hedge fund firm, where they have to keep their relationship a secret in order to avoid breaking company policy, but one day Emily receives unexpected news from their boss Campbell (Eddie Marsan): she’s being promoted to the role of Portfolio Manager, which she had previously heard via whisper was going to be given to Luke. He initially seems delighted that his fiancé is moving up the corporate ladder, but very quickly it becomes obvious that he’s absolutely fuming on the inside, and slowly becomes more and more butt-hurt by her growing prominence in the company, which starts to turn their rock-solid relationship into one of petty jealousies, screaming matches, and eventually something that is utterly doomed.
Fair Play is a film of two very different sides to a rather murky coin. On one side, Fair Play is a study of how fragile the male ego can be, and how it can bring out some unpleasant qualities in a man when they feel emasculated by their more successful female counterparts (example: Luke begins listening to online seminars by a Jordan Peterson-esque figure, whose advice about reclaiming their masculinity he takes far too literally at times). On the other side, it explores the brutal uphill climb for any woman hoping to make a dent in a predominantly male industry, especially one that is rampant with blatant and downright sinister misogyny. Both are aspects that Domont’s script balances out rather well, allowing enough time on either side to be given the necessary development while still leaving some of its most pressing issues intentionally under the rug, which gives the overall film a sense of subtlety that some of the most high-profile thrillers of this nature tend to overlook in favour of pure shock value.
The cutthroat boys’ club world of high-end finance is certainly an easy target to aim towards in today’s economically imbalanced world, but Domont’s focus is merely on how its ruthlessness is slowly poisoning the two main characters. Emily, driven by ambition and her survival instincts within her male-dominated environment, consciously pushes herself to numerous extremes in order to seem like she is, for lack of a better phrase, one of the “boys”; this includes attending early-morning bar meetings with her volatile boss Campbell, downing shots and making it rain dollar bills in strip clubs, and taking some nasty verbal abuse when she inadvertently loses the company a lot of money. Luke, by contrast, is a bootlicker who’s constantly trying to make a good impression, but he lacks the stamina or even the talent to land a sizeable investment, let alone the promotion he’s initially refused, and seeing his romantic partner achieve all the success that he feels entitled to, as both a man and (in his eyes) a hard-working employee at a firm where he easily fits into the crowd more than she does, triggering a much more vindictive and abusive side of him.
Needless to say, it doesn’t become long before we are seeing the absolute dissolution of their relationship as a consequence of their different ideas of success. Domont’s tight script and stern direction, as well as two top-notch performances by Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich, ensure that their mutual journey is invigoratingly tense amidst the growing acrimony between them, especially when things take a disturbing turn late in the movie that seals the deal for good (even if it is at the expense of the viewer’s overall comfort). It is impressive stuff, and proof that movies set in the world of finance don’t necessarily have to be about the money in order to feel rich.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Fair Play is a tense thriller set in the financial world where the focus is on a devastating battle of the sexes which, thanks to tight filmmaking and excellent performances, mostly makes for rich viewing.