Fair Play review: A visceral and polarizing Thriller

Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich appear in Fair Play by Chloe Domont, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich appear in Fair Play by Chloe Domont, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute /
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Fair Play is the marriage of Swimming with the Sharks and War of the Roses, where even Buddy Ackerman and Oliver Rose might advise Emily and Luke to take a deep breath and a step back from the tendency to placate toxic male egos.

Of course, that might insult Chloe Domont’s incredibly visceral and highly polarizing relationship thriller. You may love it or, more likely, hate it, but it’s never dull and will resonate with anyone ever involved in a troubled relationship.

And polarizing is fine. It should be welcomed because of Domont’s original script. It’s as if the director deliberately chooses to go against the grain of relationship film clichés by making the characters, and as a result, the viewer, uncomfortable at almost every turn.

Netflix’s Fair Play is a truly visceral yet polarizing thriller.

The story follows a young couple, Emily (a terrific Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich), who cannot keep their hands off each other. They have secretly dated for almost two years because they work at a cutthroat hedge fund firm.

That’s all about to change because Luke asks Emily to marry him. After their boss is fired immediately, they create an opening to manage the team. Emily overhears two coworkers and speculates the next man up would be Luke. She tells him, and he’s ecstatic.

That’s until hedge fund owner Campbell (a seething Eddie Marsen) offers the job to Emily over a late-night drink. Suffice it to say, Luke doesn’t take the news well. Their relationship begins to unravel in disturbing ways.

Domont’s Fair Play is built to be divisive, stimulating, and engineered to lead to a bold finish. Any mental health professional will tell you that a relationship is based not on the good times but on how a couple manages the bad ones.

And that’s where Domont’s film excels spectacularly because of its modern themes. For one, the delicate male ego can lead to toxicity. Luke’s pride is hurt, and he becomes jealous and refuses to help himself but to take his fiancée’s helping hand, which is practically pleading.

Domont switches the gender roles in a way with Fair Play. Luke is a dreamer and romantic. Emily is pragmatic and calculating in her approach. As the film continues to peel back new and interesting layers, we learn that Luke does not have the sparkling track record that he led Emily to believe.

In one of the film’s best scenes, Luke demands his fiancée talk to Campbell about a promotion. Emily knows this isn’t the time, but he brashly leaves her office and waxes poetic (and even pathetically) about how Campbell is Luke’s God, and the firm is his religion.

It’s a stunning scene in which you look through the cracks in your fingers and try to cover your eyes at the spectacular crash and burn. What Luke doesn’t know, and Emily and Campbell both know, is that this workplace doesn’t care about your hopes and dreams.

All they care about are results.

Is Fair Play a good or bad film?

Ultimately, Fair Play is a very good thriller that is elevated by two outstanding performances highlighting Domont’s intentions of meticulous interpretation of male toxicity. You’ll observe how Ehrenreich, so good in Oppenheimer, has Luke’s protectiveness lead to issues of control and dominance.

Luke’s story is about seeking power because of his male fragility and his loss of control when Dynevor’s Emily was deemed a better candidate than himself. Emily’s story is one of victimization and placating Luke’s behavior.

Is Fair Play worth watching?

Fair Play is worth watching, but be forewarned; it can be triggering. This leads to a stunning, divisive scene (it shouldn’t be) where polarization comes into play. That scene is about Luke spinning off his access because he no longer has control and regains it disturbingly.

Fair Play is a thought-provoking piece that puts people on edge, makes them uncomfortable, and demands a critical analysis without easy answers or even simple truths.

Grade: “Fair Play is a polarizing thriller that’s truly visceral, that leaves the viewer uncomfortable and demands a critical analysis without easy answers or even simple truths.” 3.5/5 stars. 

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