We review the Sundance 2023 selection Fair Play, starring Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor and Solo actor Alden Ehrenreich.
PLOT: Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) are a New York power couple in the making. They both work as analysts for one of the top investment firms on Wall Street, and both seem to be within a stone’s throw of a huge promotion that will make their careers. Newly engaged, the two are faced with an unexpected challenge when the power dynamic between them shifts suddenly, with Emily promoted over Luke.
REVIEW: If ever there was an industry with the potential to wreak havoc on relationships, it’s the world of finance. Many films have depicted this industry as cutthroat and toxic. The reality is that small mistakes or miscalculations can ruin careers, and every day brings the potential for ruin, no matter how brilliant you might have seemed yesterday. It attracts a certain type of person, and the business is punishing. Fair Play coveys this expertly, with Emily and Luke’s daily grind being presented in great detail. The two are up at 430am every day but, by necessity, are also out drinking until dawn every night (after-hours clubs are where many careers are made). There’s very little room for a personal life, and their firm explicitly forbids relationships within the office.
Initially, the two seem ideally matched. They’re both young and gorgeous and have the edge and confidence needed to succeed. But, it eventually becomes clear that Emily is brilliant, while Luke is merely proficient, with their boss (Eddie Marsan) giving her an opportunity that sets her career. The film charts their shifting dynamic, with Luke’s jealousy growing more toxic by the moment while Emily makes many misguided attempts to build him up, all of which backfire tremendously.
Fair Play is very much in the style of the adult-oriented dramas and thrillers we used to get in the eighties and nineties, albeit through a different lens. If this were to be made in that era, one could easily imagine Michael Douglas as a more sympathetic Luke. Here he’s shown to be such a slave to his own ambition that it threatens to turn him into the kind of monster typically played by women like Demi Moore and Glenn Close in those vintage flicks.
That said, I’d hesitate to say Fair Play is a PC version of those movies. Writer-director Chloe Domont wants to make a movie that entertains and belongs on the shelf next to something like Wall Street or Disclosure without being watered-down. She’s directed a few episodes of Billions and seems to have an affinity for the world. She depicts the hyper-macho, misogynist aspect of the world but also has Emily participate, with her fine being “one of the boys” if it helps her get ahead.
The leads here are excellent, with Phoebe Dynevor of Bridgerton a terrific choice for the lead. She reminded me of a young Naomi Watts or Nicole Kidman and fitted perfectly into the milieu being created by Domont. You believe her as someone who could rise to the top and be just as calculating as the boys if need be, and Domont never softens her too much. She has enough rough edges to make her interesting.
However, many folks will no doubt be buzzing about Alden Ehrenreich, with this a strong comeback vehicle for the actor. He plays Luke’s mounting insecurity and toxicity in a way that allows him to command the screen. His de-evolution feels legitimate thanks to the shading present in his performance from the first drama. Again, it’s a lot like the kind of role Michael Douglas might have played a few decades ago, but without the need to make him likable. Luke is a bastard, and Ehrenreich embraces this aspect of him.
Eddie Marsan is also terrific as the lead’s boss, a hard-bitten titan of the industry who’s not above calling Emily a “stupid f**ckin b**ch” when she makes a pricy mistake but also recognizes her potential and isn’t presented as predatory – at least not in a sexual way. It’s a slick, taut drama with some thriller elements baked in. It’s probably the most entertaining film I saw at Sundance last year, and following its TIFF showing it’s set to be released on Netflix soon. Keep an eye out for it.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/fair-play-sundance-review/