Fair Play review: Chloe Domont’s erotic financial drama is an instant classic

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Fair Play begins and ends with blood. Chloe Domont’s sizzling directorial debut, which premiered this year at the US Dramatic Competition at Sundance, also features one of the most shocking sex scenes that is sure to emerge as the most talked about aspects as it prepares for release (Netflix bought the worldwide rights for a $20 million deal.) Still, none of these prerogatives can prepare you for the hydrogen bomb of a movie that’s Fair Play. It’s one of those breakthrough films that feels like a classic even on first viewing. (Read also: Magazine Dreams review: Elijah Bynum’s powerful character study is a volcanic mix of Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta)

When Emily (Phoebe Dynevor of Bridgerton) discovers that Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) is planning to surprise her with a proposal, she’s the one who promptly says yes. Young and beautiful, they run away from the party to reach their modest New York apartment they share. But, as we soon realize, this is not the only thing these two young financial analysts have in common. They also work for the same company where company rules make it difficult for them to come out as a couple while barely making their way to higher status in a high-risk, competitive ecosystem that spares no one. In an early scene, a colleague smashes the computers with a golf stick when they are fired. Emily and Luke take a look and keep to themselves.

Trouble begins to arise in their carefully orchestrated affair when Emily is promoted to the position of Prime Minister, as her boss Rory (Eddie Marsan) informs. She thought this position would go to Luke, which she told him beforehand. In the new structure, Luke becomes her analyst. She offers to help him get a promotion, but Luke flatly declines – preferring to help himself. His gendered conditioning and toxic masculinity begin to unravel little by little, as one begins to understand whether the relationship itself will see a promotion or a crushing goodbye.

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Chloe Domont’s razor-sharp script cuts away the implications of shifting positions of power in the central relationship to meet the price of ambition. As the tensions threaten to hurt their personal egos, Luke has the nerve to tell Emily that she’s worked her way to the top with sexual favors. Also Emily doesn’t forget to snap back that he was never good to be taken seriously in the first place. In an unforgettable scene, Emily demands that Luke drop everything and have sex with her right then and there. How it escalates from then on seals the deal with what’s left with the relationship.

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Throughout the 113-minute running time, Fair Play walks a tightrope of emotion, never letting audiences expect the best from the savage gender war. Franklin Peterson’s editing is delightful, as the story constantly changes position and perspective. The last 15 minutes in particular are textured like a ticking time bomb, giving way to that ugly, toxic finale. Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich are simply amazing together, delivering exceptional twists – they get every scene-chewing material here and shape their characters with poise and control.

In a post #metoo world, Fair Play’s dynamics and design are bound to open a fierce discourse about the aggressive workplace codes created by men in positions of power. This is highly intelligent work that isn’t afraid to take risks – and boy, does it take some. Emily is making her way to the top, but it’s clearly not her competency that everyone is interested in. But in the end Emily knows what to prioritize, the man or the career. Jaws will drop.

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