Fair Play begins and ends with blood. Chloe Domont’s blistering directorial debut, that premiered at the U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance this year, also features one of the most shocking sex scenes that will certainly emerge as the most talked-about aspects as it prepares itself for release (Netflix bought the global rights for a $20 million deal.) Yet, none of these prerogatives can prepare you for the hydrogen-bomb of a film that is Fair Play. It is one of those breakout films that feels like a classic even on the first watch. (Also read: Magazine Dreams review: Elijah Bynum’s powerful character study is a volcanic mix of Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta)
When Emily (Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor) discovers that Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) has been planning to surprise her with a proposal, she is the one who promptly says yes. They are young and beautiful, and run away from the party to reach their modest New York apartment which they share. Yet, as we soon realize, it not just the only thing that these two young financial analysts share. They also work for the same company where corporate rules make it hard for them to come out as a couple when they are barely inching to climb a higher status at a highly risky, competitive ecosystem that spares no one. In an early scene, a coworker smashes the computers with a golf stick when they are fired. Emily and Luke steal a glance, and stick to themselves.
The trouble begins to emerge in their carefully orchestrated affair when Emily is promoted to the position of a PM, as her boss Rory (Eddie Marsan) informs. She thought this position would go to Luke, which she had told him beforehand. In the new structure, Luke becomes her analyst. She offers to help him get a promotion, but Luke directly refuses- he would rather help himself. His gendered conditioning and toxic masculinity begins to unravel bit by bit, as one begins to comprehend whether the relationship itself will see a promotion or a crashing farewell.
Chloe Domont’s razor-sharp script cuts away the implications of shifting power positions in the central relationship to face the price of ambition. As the tensions threaten to leave their personal egos hurt, Luke has the audacity to tell Emily that she managed her way to the top with sexual favours. Emily, too, doesn’t miss to snap back that he was never good to be taken seriously at the first place. In one unforgettable scene, Emily demands that Luke leave everything aside and have sex with her at that very moment. How it escalates from thereon seals the deal with what is left with the relationship.
For its 113 minutes of runtime, Fair Play walks a tightrope of emotions and never lets its audience expect the better out of the ferocious gender-war. Franklin Peterson’s editing is ravishing, as the narrative constantly shifts positions and perspectives. The last 15 minutes in particular, are textured like a ticking time-bomb, which give way for that ugly, venomous finale. Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich are simply terrific together and deliver exceptional turns- they each get scene-chewing material here and mould their characters with poise and control.
In a post #metoo world, the dynamics and design of Fair Play are bound to open up fierce discourse on the aggressive workplace codes that are created by men in positions of power. This is deeply intelligent work that is unafraid to take risks- and boy, does it take some of them. Emily works her way up to the top- but clearly it is not her competency that everyone’s interested in. Yet, by the end Emily knows what to prioritize, the man or the career. Jaws will drop.