Fair Play is the kind of movie the major studios don’t make anymore. Once upon a time, it would have been given a wide theatrical release and its two lead actors would have had awards campaigns mounted in their honor. Thank goodness Netflix has stepped up to put films like this in front of a wide audience. Superheroes and sequels are fine, but we need these sorts of smart, gripping films aimed at adults. Writer/director Chloe Domont has created an erotic drama that ratchets up the tension from beginning to end.
Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Ehren Aldenreich) are very much in love. Both work at a hedge fund. Their hot-and-heavy romance must be kept secret from their coworkers, as it’s against company policy. The couple has a plan. Luke is in line for a big promotion. Once he has it, he’ll use his influence to get her one, too. With both in higher positions, their bank account will flourish. A monkey wrench is tossed into things when no-BS boss Campbell (the excellent Eddie Marsan) gives the promotion to Emily, privately telling her that he thinks Luke isn’t very impressive professionally.
The central relationship in Fair Play takes a major hit thanks to this unexpected development. Domont shows in detail how the spark dims. Luke barely represses his resentment, while trying to appear supportive. He withholds sex from Emily as a passive-aggressive means of expressing his anger. She tries to be the solution to his problem, not recognizing that it’s impossible to cope with feelings on somebody else’s behalf. Animosity builds up until an explosive act occurs, changing both characters’ lives forever. Even though the movie isn’t a technical thriller, it absolutely has an underlying sense of anxiety that takes hold of you as these lovers become adversaries.
The story has a great deal of intelligent insight into relationships that aren’t as stable underneath as they appear on the surface. In particular, Luke’s old-fashioned idea of gender roles is fascinatingly dysfunctional. He believes himself to be a liberated guy, only to become envious when his female partner has a career advancement before he does. The scenario isn’t much different than what they originally planned, aside from the fact that he didn’t advance first. He wants the best for Emily, just as long as he gets it before she does.
Ehrenreich is outstanding as Luke, conveying all the pent-up insecurity and rage without falling into the trap of becoming stereotypical. The actor makes this guy’s toxicity authentic. He’s matched by Dynevor, who perfectly dramatizes Emily’s journey from believing she has to be the “perfect” girlfriend to learning how to set important boundaries with the man in her life. Every scene the two share together is electrifying. Not a single moment rings false.
Explicit sexuality is present to give a means of measuring how substantially the rapport between the couple changes. That proves an inspired decision, one that drives home the story’s themes with maximum impact. It’s also another way Fair Play established itself as a powerhouse movie that should go to the top of your Netflix watch list.
out of four
Fair Play is rated R for pervasive language, sexual content, some nudity, and sexual violence. The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.