Fair Play (2023) Review

First things first, the highly-anticipated Fair Play isn’t the kind of erotic thriller populated in the ’80s and ’90s such as Fatal Attraction (1987), Basic Instinct (1992) and to a certain extent, Disclosure (1994). At least, not in the way you expected it to be.

Instead, Chloe Domont’s debut feature focuses more on the consequences of a secret relationship with some added erotic moments. The “secret relationship” in question has nothing to do with infidelity or something like that. Apparently, it was against the company policy for employees to date each other. Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) are the aforementioned recently engaged employees working in the same hedge fund firm as financial analysts. They have been hiding their relationship from others, particularly their co-workers. They treat each other like ordinary colleagues in the office but only resume their relationship when they are outside or back home.

One day, when they witness a portfolio manager making a scene after being fired, Emily subsequently overhears a rumour that Luke will be promoted to fill the vacancy. Except for the truth turns out that Emily is the one getting the promotion. At first, Luke doesn’t seem to mind at all and he’s even supportive of her.

But it doesn’t take long before Luke starts to feel uncomfortable and insecure about the whole thing. For instance, Emily often goes out during odd hours to meet up with her boss, Campbell (Eddie Marsan), causing Luke to overthink that something is going on between them. Emily, in the meantime, promises she’ll help him to secure a promotion. But as time goes by, Luke’s ego is increasingly bruised to the point his relationship with Emily reaches the breaking point.

A scene in Netflix's "Fair Play" (2023)

Frankly, the erotic parts are the least attention-grabbing moments here. There is nothing titillating about them and even none of the male-gazing perspective that emulates the lurid filmmaking style of say, Adrian Lyne or Paul Verhoeven. Domont directs the sex scenes in a more subdued and grounded way even with moments of Emily begins to talk dirty.

The thriller parts of the movie? Here, Domont cleverly uses the familiar genre to bring out a foreboding sense of dread while building gradual tension like a ticking bomb. Like how gender and power dynamics affect Emily and Luke imploded inside out in their personal and working relationships. The taut sensation also stretches to the cutthroat world of the hedge fund industry, its toxic working environment and the fact of having a ruthless boss who doesn’t mince words like Eddie Marsan’s Campbell.

What really interests me the most is how Domont, who also wrote the screenplay, depicted a career-minded woman like Emily working in the otherwise male-dominated hedge fund firm. The movie subverts the old-school/typical mentality of “sleeping (your) way to the top”, replacing with Emily actually working her a** off to get where she is now. It’s hard not to sympathise with her character trying to hold everything together and make things right no matter work or personal, only to have her fiancé, Luke either misunderstand or accuse her otherwise.

Phoebe Dynevor, who plays Emily, delivers one of the best performances I’ve ever seen this year. The Bridgerton star not only radiates undeniable charisma but also excels in playing a conflicted character torn between her professional and personal relationships. Her co-star, Alden Ehrenreich is no slouch either, whose egoistic role as Luke continues to prove that 2023 marks a career resurgence for the 33-year-old actor after acclaimed turns in Cocaine Bear and Oppenheimer. Both Dynevor and Ehrenreich share great chemistry and their love-hate relationship is part of the reasons that made Fair Play such a thought-provoking experience.

Fair Play is currently streaming on Netflix.