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Fair Play Review

"Fair Play" is a gripping and intense thriller about a finance power couple navigating fractured egos and power dynamics.

Fair Play is a film that initially appears to be a mild erotic drama centered around a secretive engagement between a finance power couple. However, it quickly evolves into a gripping and intense thriller that delves into fractured egos and complex power dynamics. Written and directed by Chloe Domont, the movie occasionally struggles under its own weight and dramatic density. Nevertheless, it manages to captivate viewers in its raw and unapologetic portrayal, with outstanding lead performances at the forefront.

The story introduces us to Luke (played by Alden Ehrenreich) and Emily (played by Phoebe Dynevor) during a family wedding, where a series of mishaps involving oral sex, period blood, and a proposal gone awry take place. Despite the unconventional setting of a public restroom, the scene is surprisingly sweet and intimate. While the film doesn't quite establish their sexual dynamic with overwhelming passion, their excitement and joy about their engagement are charming, reminiscent of a young couple experiencing their first night together. However, the next morning, their professional routine sharply contrasts with their romantic encounter. They leave their small New York apartment separately at dawn and arrive at the same cutthroat hedge fund office, where they work as analysts, trading and shorting stocks while maintaining a professional demeanor towards each other.

When a highly sought-after position becomes available, along with a luxurious corner office, rumors circulate that Luke is next in line. However, after Emily is summoned to a late-night meeting with their stern boss, Campbell (played by Eddie Marsan), she is unexpectedly offered the position instead. Luke is taken aback, as are they both, but he tries to be supportive despite his obvious disappointment. However, their relationship begins to crack under the strain, exacerbated by their inability to express their concerns properly. Luke's wounded ego further complicates matters, now that he works directly under Emily.

During the first half of the film's 115-minute runtime, there are moments when it feels like Domont and cinematographer Menno Mans struggle to find the right focus for their camera during silent scenes. The frame moves purposefully, only to reveal nothing significant in the characters' surroundings. Initially, this can be distracting and give the impression of amateurishness. However, the film takes a sudden turn, intensifying the narrative and leaving little room for meandering. As the couple's personal and professional lives collide, a mutual resentment builds and manifests in unexpected ways. Fair Play is not only a domestic drama but also a workplace thriller, with millions of dollars often hanging in the balance. The movie doesn't delve deeply into the financial intricacies, but it frames each decision within the dramatic context of the inevitable clash between the couple's public and private lives, which constantly jeopardizes their careers.

Phoebe Dynevor delivers a strong performance, navigating the testosterone-fueled Wall Street ladder with the appropriate mix of temptation and trepidation. The film demonstrates self-awareness regarding the toxicity of its "girl boss" musings within the context of a corrupt financial world. However, the movie's progression is occasionally hindered by its relatively straightforward portrayal of Emily, whose existence seems largely defined by external factors such as her relationship, job, and bosses. On one hand, this can be interpreted as subtle commentary on the challenges women face in male-dominated corporate environments. On the other hand, the character's dramatic framing often feels incomplete. While her inner thoughts are conveyed through cinematic techniques, such as cuts to what she observes, close-ups of Emily herself rarely reveal her true essence.

Both Luke and Emily appear to lack individual opinions, interests, or perspectives outside of their jobs and each other. This portrayal can also be seen as a self-reflective commentary on the cutthroat nature of the corporate world. However, the difference lies in Domont's direction of Alden Ehrenreich's performance. Ehrenreich's ability to simmer and stew in silence is remarkable, creating palpable tension that obscures the dynamics of Luke and Emily's relationship. He becomes a ticking time bomb, building up to an explosive point, and witnessing Ehrenreich gradually reach that stage is both thrilling and maddening. The film's masterful sound design further enhances this sensation, making even mundane environments feel jagged, whether it's the background chatter of the workplace or the simple movements of a romantic partner within the house.

What sets Fair Play apart is its ability to transform words into weapons, allowing the lead actors to engage in thought-provoking exchanges and react in all the wrong ways. It is disarming to witness the vivid depiction of a relationship on the verge of collapse, where bedroom power dynamics become blurred due to a lack of communication. Although the film concludes with a morally didactic message that may feel too neat for its otherwise complex and untidy nature, Fair Play stands out as a rare Hollywood thriller that solely focuses on personal stakes. Chloe Domont's directorial debut showcases her talent for escalating tension, making her a filmmaker worth keeping an eye on in the future.

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