'Fair Play' a smart, twisty mix of romance and corporate politics
“Fair Play” — ★ ★ ★ ★
It takes a while for Chloe Domont's smart and twisty first feature “Fair Play” to segue from a high-finance romance to an alarming domestic horror tale where the male ego stars as the monster.
When it does, “Fair Play” digs its narrative talons into us with forceful purpose, and they don't come out until we ask ourselves one question: “Is this movie supposed to be about revenge or forgiveness?”
“Fair Play” starts with a shockingly original (and messy) opening scene for a romantic non-comedy. The details can't be printed in a family newspaper, but it shows Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) and Emily (Phoebe Dynevor), obviously drunk, at a wedding where they sneak off to the restroom to perform the dance of the wild bunnies.
Luke clumsily drops a surprise engagement ring on the floor. She says yes.
We do not yet realize how rebellious — or foolish — they are. As we discover, they work for a cutthroat New York finance firm called One Crest Capital. In these post-#metoo times, the company's strict policy does not allow hanky-panky between its employees.
But Emily and Luke keep their relationship below the radar of their tough boss, Campbell (a scarily placid, unreadable Eddie Marsan), even after he appoints Emily as the new office PM (portfolio manager), effectively making Luke, a lowly analyst, her assistant.
“I'm so (expletive deleted) proud of you!” Luke tells Emily. But something in his tone, his face, betrays a different response.
As writer/director Domont slowly heats her corporate drama to a blistering boil, it becomes apparent that Emily is much smarter than Luke, who pushes her to buy assets that tank, costing the company millions of dollars.
Taking a Tammy Wynette cue, Emily stands by her man, covering for him, helping him, not realizing that this further alienates Luke, who cannot accept his lover's success, and becomes convinced she must be sleeping with Campbell to achieve it.
Edgy, unpredictable and nuanced, “Fair Play” is a work of assured confidence from an emerging filmmaker with solid credentials in TV series (“Billions,” “Ballers” and “Clarice”). Everything about Domont's corporate world feels authentic: the fear-driven personalities, the unspoken subtext of conversations, the Wall Street lingo, the resilient male-dominant culture begrudgingly allowing women at the table.
As Emily, Dynevor — the British actress best known for playing Daphne in the Netflix period drama “Bridgerton”— runs an impressive gamut from knuckled-down restraint to unexpected explosiveness.
Ehrenreich's perfectly pitched descent into self-destructive jealousy redeems his dismally inadequate Han Solo interpretation in “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”
So, is this movie supposed to be about revenge or forgiveness?
It's about both. And cleverly so.
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Starring: Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, Eddie Marsan
Directed by: Chloe Domont
Other: A Netflix theatrical release at the Century Cinema in Chicago; streaming Oct. 6. Rated R for language, nudity, sexual violence. 113 minutes