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Dan Webster reviews "Fair Play"

Film still of Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor in Fair Play (2023).
Fair Play, T-Street/Star Thrower Entertainment/MRC Film/Netflix, 2023.
Film still of Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor in Fair Play (2023).

DAN WEBSTER:

Fair Play, which was written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Chloe Domont, does a pretty good job of resembling the industry in which it is set. Which is only fitting since the particular industry Domont explores involves cut-throat, high-end finance, an enterprise that tends to leave many of us so often baffled, somewhat frustrated and at times even angry.

Set on Wall Street, Fair Play involves a pair of analysts who work for a big-time hedge fund. We learn right away that Emily (played by Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (played by Alden Ehrenreich) are more than just colleagues: despite a company policy against fraternization, the two are living together.

More than that, though, they are desperately in love—so much so that when an engagement ring falls out of Luke’s pocket, he barely hesitates to propose. And Emily, despite being surprised—maybe even shocked—says yes… then they celebrate by making mad love in a public restroom.

There’s a fair amount of lovemaking in the first half hour of Fair Play, in fact, though most of it is of the PG-13 type, meaning lots of passion but only a flash or two of nudity. It’s when the lovemaking stops that the trouble begins. But… that’s getting ahead of the story.

When a senior portfolio manager is handed his walking papers—something that seems to occur regularly at this company—Emily hears a rumor that Luke is in line to take his place. And both are happy, especially Luke who—foreshadowing—wonders how he could have gotten so lucky both at work and at love. Imagine his disappointment, then, when not only does he fail to get the promotion but instead the job goes to, you guessed it, Emily.

At first he seems okay with the situation. Luke reacts the way most sensitive, and sensible, men would hope to: seemingly genuinely happy that his partner, the woman he wants to marry, has made good. But writer-director Domont isn’t interested in pursuing that kind of fairy tale.

Because two things happen next. One, Emily keeps getting late-night phone calls, which involve meetings with the company’s CEO Campbell (played by Eddie Marsdan) for drinks. It’s at those meetings that she learns that Luke had never been considered for the job and that, in fact, Campbell doesn’t think much of him and is planning to fire him—an action that Emily tries to stave off.

The second occurrence involves how the working relationship between Emily and Luke evolves. Emily is now his boss, and that arrangement clearly begins to grate on him—especially when he sees her both succeeding at a job he thinks should have been his and, worse, laughing and joking with Campbell and his minions in the office and—he can only imagine—doing much worse things during those late-night meetings.

Luke’s desperation grows, especially after making a trade that costs the company $25 million—which is around the time that he loses all interest in responding to Emily’s romantic advances. And when Emily rejects his attempt to recover his reputation, which he hopes to do by resorting to what amounts to illegally acting on insider information, Luke is crushed. And what Domont clearly thinks were his true feelings all along burst into the open.

What happens then, though, begs credulity. Among the plot twists are Luke’s drunken interruption of a management meeting, Emily’s mother planning an absurd engagement dinner, Emily and Luke violently arguing in public before doing a repeat restroom session—only this time with very different feelings involved—and, finally, Emily’s wielding of a very sharp knife.

Give Domont credit—or at least give her cast credit—for crafting scenes of intensity that Dynevor was never able to show in the Netflix series Bridgerton, nor Ehrenreich in his portrayal of the young Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Emily’s story, though, carries an ugly tone. It entails her gradually turning into someone just as ruthless as Gordon Gekko of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street fame. And while that might reflect what passes as “fair play” in Domont’s version of the real world, it doesn’t leave anyone in her film worth rooting for.

Which, mind you, baffles me almost as much as the wavering status of my own 401K.

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.

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Movies 101 host Dan Webster is a senior film critic for Spokane Public Radio and a blogger for Spokesman.com/7blog.

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