While Wall Street has been a fruitful location for storytelling, the business world has become a hotspot of creative activity. The high-stakes world has often served as a microcosm for larger issues in America. Director and writer Chloe Domont utilizes this approach, as well as audience awareness of Wall Street and Industry, to deliver a contentious narrative about relationships in this arena. While excellent performances from Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich buoy the film, Fair Play struggles in the margins.
After getting engaged at a wedding, Emily (Dynevor) and Luke (Ehrenreich) return to their desks at work. While they have cultivated a romantic relationship, they keep it secret from their workplace. When an analyst in the company gets fired, rumors swirl about Luke’s promotion. When their bosses Campbell (Eddie Marsan) and Paul (Rich Sommers) instead promote Emily, their relationship begins to fray.
Domont expertly picks apart the power dynamics of a relationship where one party’s ego overshadows their ability. The ways in which she writes and frames Luke in the first half of Fair Play are exquisite. The mediocrity of his talent becomes evident to everyone but his fiance. Soon, Emily finds herself trying to save his future and their relationship. Yet Emily becomes so accustomed to doing so that she steps into damage control to help him reach his goals, even at the expense of her own ambition. As Domont makes clear, those who receive the benefits of sacrifice rarely feel grateful for that faith.
As the power dynamics shift throughout Fair Play, Domont gets at the dark and sinister side of masculinity in ways few others have articulated. At one point, Emily questions Luke’s willingness to pay bloated costs for seminars. While he believes in this path, she struggles to comprehend his plans. As Fair Play evolves, Luke makes it clear he only wants success for the sake of saying he’s successful.
A powerful showdown in the final act allows Dynevor to showcase a new side of her talent. Her Bridgerton season showcased her ability to lead a romantic pairing, but Fair Play shows she can turn the tables on anyone threatening her. She brings out the anger and frustration this character needs for Fair Play to land. Dynevor should get a career bump from Fair Play because this is a star-making performance.
Meanwhile, Ehrenreich grovels and cries with the best of them. It’s quite spectacular to watch an actor so comfortable in his own skin, he can play the hero or the schmuck. He carries his character with smug arrogance. Yet when Ehrenreich chooses to fall apart, it’s a stunning descent into crocodile tears. There are undeniably those in the world with little self-awareness. For Ehrenreich, he actively utilizes his persona as a smooth, good-looking man to showcase the worst kind of people our society props up. It’s arguably his best performance since Hail, Caesar!, and a welcomed return.
Furthermore, the ways that Domont utilizes location becomes one of the highlights of her film. While setting Fair Play almost entirely in an apartment and in the workplace, Domont finds nuance and parallels moments between each location. There’s something sinister that the most joyous and lowest moments of this relationship both take place in a bathroom. Much of Domont’s power as a director is in creating mood, and she does so excellently here. Domont showcases the toxicity of the financial world but also forces Emily into a broken relationship. A choice between an evil industry and a wolf in sheep’s clothing becomes a stunning critique of the expectations placed on women.
Still, despite having a sharp-tongued screenplay and some excellent performances, Fair Play struggles in two regards. First, it telegraphs where it is heading a bit too early. Part of Ehrenheich’s power as a screen presence comes from his “All-American” smile and good looks. Yet the early sequences frame a blatant disregard for others. These warning signs are too obvious and lead to predictable storytelling. This eventually leads to some melodramatic sequences, meant to invoke tension but instead fall flat.
Additionally, there’s a lack of subtlety at points in Fair Play that feels trite. Domont’s film comes at the end of a year that featured Wall Street on big and small screens, and the power of these decisions to destroy. It’s an unfortunate truth, but Fair Play‘s later release makes it impossible to ignore the many other movies sharing subjects (domestic violence, sexual power dynamics, or Wall Street) that have dominated the last six months. Where Fair Play goes for the jugular with some of these issues, Women Talking and Decision to Leave remain the high watermark when addressing some of Fair Play‘s concerns.
While Domont nearly puts together the debut of the year, it still shows incredible promise. A strong cast helps, but her sharp screenplay makes her a director to watch. There are plenty of highlight sequences in Fair Play to show she’s barely scratched the surface of her potential. She can clearly dive into the darkest parts of our psyches.