Netflix’s newest is a fierce and feminist erotic thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.
This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Fair Play is all about the rules of engagement—in business, in bed, in relationships—and the chaos that ensues when someone who lives and dies by those rules suspects his partner is breaking them. However, it isn’t the fairness of the righteous or the just she’s violating. No, it is the unwritten rules he believes everyone should play the game by.
In writer and director Chloe Domont’s debut, Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) are the couple at the conflict’s center. When the film begins, one thing’s for certain. Emily and Luke are wildly, passionately in love. So in love, in fact, that they decide to get married. The only problem? They both work at the same cutthroat hedge fund on Wall Street. To complicate matters further, the promotion they both assumed was Luke’s goes to Emily instead. This throws the entire balance of their partnership out of whack, forcing them to contemplate if their relationship and careers can survive the upheaval.
Nothing about Fair Play is subtle. Rather, it is slick, sexy, and, at times, delightfully shocking. The opening scene epitomizes the film’s tone. In it, Emily and Luke slip away from a wedding party for some steamy bathroom sex. Their plan’s rudely interrupted not by a fellow guest but by Emily’s period. The moment rings somewhere between hilarious, stomach-churning, surprisingly sexy, outlandishly absurd, staggeringly realistic, or some combination therein. One should expect audible sounds of disgust and some laughter. Perhaps, though, it’s still only the bold who’ll be able to admit its unbridled eroticism.
Using this as a jumping-off point, Domont continues playing with power dynamics, sexuality, and societal norms and expectations throughout the movie. She’s using the world of finance and those hungry to be a part of the 1% as her playground. As a director on shows like Ballers, Suits, and Billions, she’s no stranger to dramas set in the bowels of corporate America. However, with Fair Play, she leaves the soap opera schemes behind.
Nothing about Fair Play is subtle. Rather, it is slick, sexy, and, at times, delightfully shocking.
In their place, she opts for something a little grittier and a little more real, all viewed through an intensely feminist lens. What’s impressive here is that Domont’s feminist critique is less about how hard women have it in the world of top-tier finance (which would have a more “hire more women guards!” vibe about it), and more about using the customs of marriage and finance. She explores far more nuanced ideas about gender roles through the incredibly strict rules that inform both institutions. Domont is curious about the power of expectations: the expectations men place on women, the expectations capitalism places on those trying to climb the ladder, and how men react when those expectations aren’t met.
Thus, the script allows Dynevor and Ehrenreich to fly between extremes. Ehrenreich takes Luke from a giddy young lover to a man cracking under his barely constrained rage. Dynevor, on the other hand, guides Emily from a dewey-eyed “good woman” to something between a steel pillar and a volcano. That both actors can balance those wide ranges while still selling us on their love in the opening moments is crucial to making Fair Play work. After all, we need to believe they’re in love in order to care if that love can survive.
The incredible Eddie Marsan as Luke and Emily’s boss is the star of the lean supporting cast, eating up space in every scene with the enormity of his presence. He’s positioned both as something of a villain, the arbiter of destruction in Emily and Luke’s relationship, and as a dispassionate god, merely bearing witness to it.
Fair Play accomplishes an incredible amount in a relatively short runtime; no scene and no second feel wasted. It’s tense enough to make you sweat and sexy enough to make you blush. It’s a knockout debut that’s certain to split audiences in two, but it absolutely earns a spot in the modern erotic thriller canon.
Fair Play gets naughty and complicated in select theatres starting September 29 before hitting Netflix on October 6.