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Fair Play Movie Review

Fair Play Movie Review

Chloe Domont’s thrilling tale of romance and high-stakes finance, “Fair Play,” made a grand entrance at Sundance in January and was quickly snapped up by Netflix. Now, the film has wowed audiences at TIFF with its compelling narrative. The story revolves around two hedge fund analysts whose clandestine affair spirals out of control. Phoebe Dynevor delivers a standout performance that keeps the film’s intensity alive, while Domont’s clear, unwavering direction steers the ship.

We’re introduced to Emily, portrayed by Dynevor, as she stands alone on a chilly ledge outside a lively party, cigarette in hand. She’s soon joined by her charming colleague and secret partner, Luke, played by Alden Ehrenreich. He brings her back into the celebration—his brother’s wedding—where she’s quickly praised for her beauty but feels like an outsider. Despite this, her connection with Luke is undeniable. Their relationship takes a steamy turn in a bathroom encounter that leaves their attire marked by her menstrual blood. An accidental engagement follows when a ring falls from Luke’s pocket, setting their already fiery relationship ablaze.

The following morning, they wake up on their apartment floor, a testament to their passionate night. It’s early, 4:30 a.m., and they move in sync, brewing coffee and slipping into their impeccably tailored suits (and Emily’s towering heels). They only separate when it’s time to catch the train, a strategy to keep their forbidden office romance under wraps. Both are ambitious analysts at the firm, eyeing a promotion. When a portfolio manager dramatically resigns, causing a security alert, they both see an opportunity to step up. Emily hears whispers that Luke might get the job, but when she is promoted instead, their meticulously planned careers—and love story—begin to unravel.

Domont’s skillful script and direction subtly hint at the impending collapse of their relationship. When Emily gets a late-night call about her promotion, Luke anxiously waits for her return, fearing she might have been attacked. Later, he twists this concern into an accusation, suggesting she slept her way to the top. Initially, they are inseparable even in sleep; later, they lie stiffly in their beds, then Emily alone on the sofa, until one day, Luke is gone. Their emotional divide becomes a physical gap.

“Fair Play” subtly reveals the contrasting economic backgrounds of Emily and Luke. Both are Ivy League graduates, but Emily hails from Long Island and earned her place through a scholarship. She has faced sexism in her career, something Luke could never fully comprehend—until he begins to use it against her. After attending a seminar led by a thinly veiled misogynistic motivational speaker, Luke starts undermining Emily. He criticizes her attire, calling her a “cupcake,” which makes her question her fashion choices and business acumen.

Despite both being capable and dedicated, it’s evident early on that Emily’s instincts and work ethic make her a superior employee. However, Luke clings to a sense of entitlement, believing he deserves this job and lifestyle because of his longstanding desire for them. Such entitlement is a luxury Emily can’t afford, having worked tirelessly for as long as she can remember.

Domont doesn’t just delve into office politics and sexism; she also examines the sexual dynamics between Emily and Luke. Initially, their passion is mutual, with Luke prioritizing Emily’s pleasure. But as Emily’s career takes off, Luke’s resentment turns into sexual dysfunction, then into withholding intimacy, and finally into aggression. While the metaphor might be somewhat overt at times, it effectively illustrates that male violence signifies weakness, not strength.

Ehrenreich skillfully portrays Luke’s transformation from a supportive partner to a hostile adversary, but the film truly belongs to Dynevor from beginning to end. Her character’s strength lies in her public restraint, only revealing her more relaxed side to Luke. As pressures at work and home escalate, she must subtly charm all the men around her without them realizing it.

Throughout most of the movie, Dynevor maintains a stiff posture, standing tall in her stylish yet uncomfortable heels. She allows her emotions to surface only briefly as flashes of anger, happiness, or stress on her face. This control becomes increasingly challenging as Luke’s behavior grows more unpredictable. Despite maintaining a certain facade, Dynevor’s standout performance reveals the toll this double life takes on her through subtle cues—a deep breath here, a concealed look of sadness there, or a slight quiver in her voice when responding to a colleague.

Emily eventually unleashes her pent-up emotions in a powerful scene reminiscent of George Cukor’s classic “Gaslight,” featuring Ingrid Bergman. Fans of that film, which has been widely misinterpreted, will appreciate Domont’s accurate depiction of ‘gaslighting’—not just as a generic manipulation of someone’s reality but also as a reflection of a couple’s power dynamics and their public and private perceptions. Interestingly, the term ‘gaslighting’ is never explicitly mentioned in “Fair Play.” While Domont’s meticulously crafted script occasionally leans towards melodrama, with its grand speeches and rigid dialogue set against repetitive backdrops, her mastery of building suspense, insightful exploration of power dynamics in professional and personal relationships, and ability to elicit remarkable performances confirm her as a director with a unique vision.

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