Blistering Relationship Thriller Fair Play Goes through Hell and High Finance

Movies Reviews Sundance 2023
Blistering Relationship Thriller Fair Play Goes through Hell and High Finance

Some people simply want, come hell or high finance. For the Gordon Gekkos of the world, it’s not just that greed is good, it’s that greed is omnipresent. They can’t imagine life defined by anything else. Two of those Wall Streeters, Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich), have to hide their love because they work at the same investment firm—and work, naturally, comes first. It’s a sexy little problem to have, a lot of running around and taking different routes to work, that’s snowballed. They’ve got their cake and they’ve already saved room. But now, they’re in so deep that they live together and, at the beginning of the thrumming, damning relationship thriller that is writer/director Chloe Domont’s Fair Play, have gotten engaged.

What were they thinking? Obviously this is only going to make their “get up at 4 AM to be verbally abused by an Ivy League asshole by 6 AM” lifestyles harder. But they’re the same kind of cutthroat, power-hungry strivers as the rest of their coworkers—as Emily asks her notoriously ruthless boss (Eddie Marsan), “Who wants it easy?” But, as Emily should know by now, half a decade out of Harvard and deep in the big firms’ weeds, the magnifying lens of the Financial District makes everything more intense—the money, the stress, the drug use, the sexism. It becomes unbearable. People burn out. That long fuse doesn’t seem dangerous to our couple (Just look how long it is! Plenty of time to snuff it out!) until Emily gets promoted over Luke.

Yeah, you see where this is going. Finance bros and the girlbosses who attempt to survive around them. Dynevor is simply phenomenal as this news starts twisting the vice around Emily’s life, and Domont gives her a far more complex and thoroughly written character than her fiancé. Ehrenreich knows how to use his gruff handsomeness; whether leaning into his caveman brow or playing against type with a pathetic timidity, it’s always better than when he leans on the charms written into his dialogue. He’s just a more physically compelling presence, as opposed to Dynevor, who’s a constant force of wit, competence, fear and yearning, trying a bevy of strategies to hang with the boys, further her own ambitions and survive an emasculated man.

Domont’s script runs us through the workings of the office just enough to understand that Emily, the only woman on her floor, is a brilliant tactician. She barrels through briefings and, after swallowing her pride, throws out Cool Girl repartee that’d make Amy Dunne blush. She’s here to win, only rocking the boat when it’s clear that she’s the financial kaiju making waves. Luke? Luke is around. He looks a lot like the other guys in the office, shares the same blue jokes as the other guys in the office, is just as close to the chopping block as the other guys in the office. Luke is breakable, and he starts to crack immediately.

And we watch, heart thumping in our ears. We know how the world works, how this toxicity will erupt. Domont, to her credit, respects that. She makes us watch Luke fracture, like watching a fissure rip across a frozen lake, right towards us, stranded on the ice. Tension gives way to terror.

Domont’s script has its contrivances—the actions of Luke and Emily’s families are so anxiety-inducingly idiotic as to be absurd, and it’s eventually hard to ignore that Emily is staying with Luke for reasons beyond our understanding—but it draws blood constantly, weaponized by her precise and clear direction. It’s like walking down a hallway of broken glass, but you have to know what’s on the other side. You know things are going to be hurt…but how bad? When the explosion comes, what will the carnage look like?

It looks buckass wild, is what it looks like. Domont’s compellingly drawn portrait of entitlement, impotence and the amplified conservative values of the bros casting the bones of capitalism is a violent delight, filled with tough scenes. Yet, its unpredictable ending is such a triumphantly visceral showdown that the impossible is achieved: The excruciating intensity is completely worth powering through. With striking turns from Dynevor and Marsan (who stalks the film like a greyed grizzly) and an aesthetic that keeps you white-knuckling through the white-collar drama, Fair Play highlights discrepancies at every turn as its couple nosedives off of the macho, dick-measuring towers of Lower Manhattan.

Director: Chloe Domont
Writer: Chloe Domont
Starring: Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, Eddie Marsan
Release Date: January 20, 2023 (Sundance)

Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.

For all the latest movie news, reviews, lists and features, follow @PasteMovies.

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