Sundance 2023

Fair Play review – electrifying finance thriller gives us a Wall Street gender war

Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich play a clashing power couple in writer-director Chloe Domont's sharp debut feature

Fair Play starts the way it ends: Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) in a bloody mess. Recently engaged – Luke proposes in the bathroom while Emily, on her period, is hunting for a tampon – the sharply dressed modern-day power couple are climbing the ranks of a cutthroat Wall Street hedge fund. But not all that glitters is gold. In her assured and impressive debut, writer-director Chloe Domont finds the stifling corporate quagmire an arena for razor-sharp commentary on contemporary sexual politics.

The first sign something’s amiss comes when Emily removes her new shiny rock. The couple leave in different directions before meeting in the elevator again to engage in compulsory small talk. Their relationship, it turns out, is explicitly against company policy, so while navigating the corporate jungle they’re just two data analysts who definitely didn’t spend the weekend making out against every surface in their apartment.

As computer screens pulse red and green while litigious numerical jargon is spat down phones, Domont's taut thriller studies the pathology of toxic masculinity that thrives in a suit-compulsory workplace. Under sterile office lights, this probing reflection on a post-#MeToo world sees male entitlement still in full force (case in point: the men scrolling socials through a mandatory sexual harassment talk). Unlike them, you have to pay attention to Fair Play’s minute-by-minute changing pace or you’ll be trading on information that expired three minutes ago, a lifetime in this office. The turbulence jackknifes with Emily’s promotion to PM (portfolio manager), a position she believed was reserved for Luke, whose attempt at a proud smile is fooling nobody.

Though Emily soon finds her belly rumbling with power-hungry gumption, an emasculated Luke is immediately suspicious of the promotion and their omniscient boss (a biting Eddie Marsan). He retreats inwards, indoctrinated into men’s advice blogs that preach to “make your rules the rules to live by.” Otherwise known as gaslighting 101. Though the repetition of work, bar, home, over and over, teeters on tiring, Domont’s handling of ruthless misogyny keeps you guessing; slut shaming and manipulation creep into frame like a predatory, uninvited visitor in Emily’s bedroom.

For her part, a roaring Dynevor unleashes a ferocity that never feels far-fetched. She may be a newcomer to film but her confidently commanding presence is scintillating. The chemistry between Dynevor and Ehrenreich is unpredictably suspenseful, supported by a sizzling script of scorching arguments and punchy dialogue that Domont refuses to snuff. Ehrenreich, too, is brilliantly dangerous. What lingers is his Joker moment, eyes fixed on the pavement as sirens scream – an intense reminder to never trust a finance bro.

Fair Play was screened as part of the Sundance Film Festival 2023. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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