Fair Play

MA 15+, 115 minutes

3 Stars


Review by © Jane Freebury

It’s great to know that at least some of the people can find time for a personal life, some of the time, in the world of financial services, an industry that has taken a well-earned drubbing lately. It’s what Fair Play would have us believe, as it sets off with its story of a couple of young analysts who are living together, in lust and in love.

Billed by the publicists as an erotic psychological thriller, this debut theatrical feature from writer-director Chloe Domont gets off to a steamy start. With a few bars of Donna Summer’s unforgettable ‘Love to Love You Baby’ on the soundtrack, the couple find each other in the crowd at a family wedding and stumble into a restroom together for a few moments of intimate time together while the party is in full swing.

When things can’t go to plan, they are able to laugh it off. Always a good sign. Then Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) gets down on his knees and …produces an engagement ring! It has to be one of the least likely settings for a marriage proposal yet, but doe-eyed Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) is smitten and says yes. Why she had to seem so surprised and over-whelmed by this, I don’t know.

The lovely young couple work at the same New York-based firm, One Crest Capital. There, after a pre-dawn coffee and brisk walk across town, they have metamorphosed into hard-headed, hard-hitting analysts for the business day.

A doe-eyed Emily tests our credulity as project manager material

Dynevor and Ehrenreich play a pair of innocents who will be consumed by the machine and eat them up it does, at the earliest opportunity. It is no coincidence that Eddie Marsan, the English character actor with soft features who has made an indelible impression in the role of a villain, is the boss, Campbell. Henchmen include a character played by Rich Sommer from the TV series Mad Men and it all adds up to a very blokey scene with few females in sight. Except, of course, for Emily.

When a project manager is sacked and goes amok, the other employees gather around to watch the show. Nice. Against expectations, the office vacated by the guy who had the meltdown goes to Emily. Her fiancé Luke appears to be genuinely, if dutifully, pleased and prepared to support her. It will be necessary for them to continue to keep their relationship a secret.

The New York locations lend themselves, as ever, to represent what the filmmakers wish them to. On this occasion, the muted tones of the images by cinematographer Menno Mans and an unsettling, nerve-jangling score from Brian McOmber contribute to the atmospheric, high production values that we have come to expect on the Netflix label. Fair Play was purchased by the streaming giant at Sundance this year.

Each of the engaging lead actors is well credentialled. Dynevor has been in numerous TV series, the latest of which is Bridgerton, while Ehrenreich’s most recent film credit was in Oppenheimer. They are well cast, though such a fragile Emily does test our credulity as a hedge fund project manager, worth a half-million-dollar commission when she does good.

An odd kind of even-handedness plays out until the very end

We may feel invested in both of these two attractive characters as they try to survive in a cut-throat world as the narrative sticks with a kind of even-handedness, that seems to want to play out until the very end. Be warned, you may chuckle.

For Luke, whether Emily slept her way into her promotion remains a niggling question, and it is hard to forgive him for it. He has been encouraging her to elicit more credit for her work and career potential, by being more assertive and dressing differently, but he can’t discard that awful thought. It also shows him up as just another jock at the office, guffawing at the thought that the only reason he is passed over is because he isn’t a cupcake.

As Emily becomes immersed in the worst of office culture, Fair Play plays out as an odd one. It is both curiously dated, back to the 1980s-1990s, while in some ways it’s the right fit for this post #MeToo moment. Even-handed to the last, leaving us high and dry in a spirit of fair play.

First published in the Canberra Times on 29 September 2023.   Jane’s reviews are also published by Rotten Tomatoes