Starring: Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, and Eddie Marsan
Director: Chloe Domont
At the start, Fair Play is an erotic thriller that is neither erotic nor thrilling. As it goes through the motions in its early going, I settled in for what I assumed would be a standard workplace-relationship power struggle, akin to a spur-of-the-moment Blockbuster rental. Then, everything changes. The story evolves into something with more teeth, and the highly praised Alden Ehrenreich performance I’d heard about kicks into gear. I wish it had gotten there sooner, but Fair Play pays off with heaps of tension and great lead showings, particularly from the underrated Ehrenreich.
I found myself really loving Fair Play, something I did not expect to say before seeing it. It starts as an erotic thriller, which I had mixed feelings about, but the psycho-sensual tension between Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor kept me on my toes. As the film goes on, however, it makes a 180 and begins to really captivate as it viciously examines domestic and gender dynamics in the workplace. And Ehrenreich, in particular, really gets to shine. Fair Play went places I had no idea it was gonna go, and it made the movie for me.
Fair Play is a modern-day twist on 90s erotic thrillers like Disclosure and the works of Paul Verhoeven and Adrian Lyne. However, with a woman, Chloe Domont, behind the script and camera, it puts a fresh spin on gender dynamics and workplace relationships. Both Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich are terrific, but Ehrenreich gives a career-best performance as he slowly gives way to his bitterness, jealousy, and inadequacy. Admittedly, the financial jargon threatens to derail the viewer’s interest at times, but it’s generally in service to the story, so it never becomes less than engaging. It’s a great debut for Domont, and a win for Netflix.
With Chloe Domont’s intense direction and a pulsating score accentuated by New York’s bustling ambiance, Fair Play is the right amount of unnerving during Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor’s dark and seedy journey through the film. With a heavy focus on both their personal and professional relationship, it runs the risk of disengaging the audience if you can’t connect with the two leads, but both Ehrenreich and Dynevor play their shifting power dynamics to an uncomfortably entertaining tee, creating enough heart-racing moments to make up for the drudge of jargon-heavy, financial sector work scenes that weigh down the script.
Fair Play is a cut-throat psychological drama that’s captivating from beginning to end. It plays extremely well with power and gender dynamics both in the workplace and in relationships. The battle-of-the-sexes jealousy and rage unravels so flawlessly throughout, creating plenty of juicy and tender moments of tension. I loved how the intensity never stops building between the lead couple (Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich) who, in my opinion, both deliver some of the best performances of the year. This is a must watch on Netflix, and a big win for first time writer/director Chloe Domont!
Fair Play masterfully wields surprising uneasiness as a tool for building suspense right from the beginning, then never lets off the gas. The film is mercifully original, with its narrative featuring modern-day gender politics, feminism, ambition, family relationship dynamics, and a complicated dichotomous male psyche that dangerously vacillates between chivalry and chauvinism. It is a nuanced approach that sets itself apart from its finger-wagging contemporaries by recognizing the gray space in which the world operates. Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, and Eddie Marsan aid director Chloe Domont in turning in one of the better Netflix original thrillers I have seen.
This film was reviewed by Nick and Adriano as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.