Writer-director Chloe Domont’s thriller “Fair Play” is the kind of NYC-set adult thriller that finds the purest of souls falling down a pit of moral corruption. The devil that you know comes in the form of power players in expensive suits armed with the will to backstab and betray. The mantra in this cutthroat society is “Whatever it takes to reach the top.”
Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) are a twenty something couple who appear to be deeply in love. As the film opens, they are attendants of a wedding and sneak off to have sex in a bathroom. A little accident occurs and during the clean-up a ring falls out of Luke’s pocket, causing a spontaneous marriage proposal. As the two profess their undying love, the future is brighter than ever.
Emily and Luke seem to have a healthy relationship and their sexual fire is always lit. As the two become up and coming players in the finance company where they have both landed work, the power becomes the turn-on, replacing the carnal desires. When Emily receives a promotion that should have gone to Luke, jealousy and monstrously vicious gender politics from the beast that will devour their happy life. As the couple spirals into their personal hell, Domont’s screenplay keeps things harsh as the young couple give in to their inner monsters. Greed for anything can invite the Mr. Hyde in all of us.
Dynevor and Ehrenreich are terrific. As Emily, Dynevor strikingly inhabits this sweet woman who becomes intoxicated by the very chauvinistic “frat boy” workplace culture that disgusts her. Emily makes no apologies for her hypocrisy; embracing it once she is attempted to the all male “club”. This is a sharp and finely calculated performance. Ehrenreich’s work walks the same fine balance. Luke is also a loving guy but reveals himself as selfish and aggressive as Emily. He is sickened by watching his fiancé swim in this pool of repulsive sharks. The performance is a reminder of Ehrenreich’s undervalued talent.
“Fair Play” isn’t afraid to show the darker consequences of what happens when decent people allow themselves to be corrupted. Domont doesn’t present caricatures, allowing her two main characters to be completely flawed. The director never makes the mistake of judging Emily and Luke, nor does she make excuses for them. The one thing Domont assures is that they won’t get away clean.
One of the film’s biggest strengths is found in Menno Mans’ dark Gordon Willis-styled cinematography. The blackness hiding in the corners of the frame hints at the ethical and moral downfalls that loom over the couple’s future. The visual structure keeps an artistically menacing cloud over the entire picture.
The film begins to go wrong as it reaches its conclusion. After a great first hour that subverts gender battles with its reactionary portrayal of emasculation and power dynamics in the business world, the picture becomes overly savage. The performances are strong and the screenplay is daring for quite some time and a great deal of the film is so skilled in setting up something morally potent, but when reaching the finale, the screenplay finds itself with nothing more to say. Once the director backs herself into a dramatic corner, the last 20 or so minutes become an array of violent outbursts designed to elicit a visceral reaction, rather than raising any intellectually involving moral quandaries.
Final act issues aside, the picture is far from a failure. “Fair Play” is an interesting film of earnest vision. For most of its running time, this is a sharp and intelligent examination of sexism, sexual strategies, and male privilege within the workplace. Domont proves herself to be one hell of a writer. Perhaps next time she can stick the landing.
Written & Directed by Chloe Domont
Starring Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, Eddie Marsan
R, 113 Minutes, MRC Film, Starthrower Entertainment