Sundance Film Festival 2023 Review: Fair Play

Writer-director Chloe Domont presents a sizzling psychological thriller delving into cutting gender dynamics and the destructive potential of ruthless ambition. Impressive starring turns from Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich bring the sharpness and thematic punch of Fair Play further to life in its unflinching power.

Snapped up by Netflix, Sundance Film Festival audiences were lucky to get a preview of this upcoming release which will undoubtedly provoke a lot of discussion from critics and audiences alike. New York couple Emily (Dynevor) and Luke (Ehrenreich), cohabiting and colleagues take their relationship a step further with their engagement. However, they soon career with choppy waters as a coveted promotion at their cutthroat financial firm arises, supportive exchanges between the lovers begin to sour into something more sinister.

Domont depicts a world of corporate chauvinists where straight white men in suits thrive in this financial battleground. Trash talking in the office and the ruthless way in which corporate big shots are cut from their posts fill the toxically masculine cutthroat atmosphere of Emily and Luke’s investment firm. Emily must fight with an added punch and vigour to smash through this glass ceiling, whilst Luke seems to say all the right things to fit the role of a supportive yet equally ambitious partner.

Domont’s narrative presents a jarring shift as Emily and Luke’s power dynamics are altered. Luke copes with Emily as an equal, yet a promotion within the firm sees insecurity prevail. In the shark tank of the corporate office, Luke struggles to cope with his fiancée becoming a superior with the destructive nature of these preconceived gender dynamics seeing the couple’s romance turn to ruthlessness. Prior to this Domont captures the free-spirited romance of the couple, something that begins to rot at the core through the context of prevailing in the world of high stakes financial investment.

This corporate divide begins to bleed into the home life of the couple. Emily soon begins partaking in boozy nights out with male colleagues at strip clubs, whilst the jilted Luke fumes at home. The emasculation of Luke embodied in his unwillingness to have sex with demanding Emily (who nonchalantly notes “We need to fuck the shit out of each other right now,”), depicting a breakdown of romance and communication between the couple. A failed business tip in the office sees Luke’s emasculation transfer into the corporate realm – exacerbating the divide between he and Emily further.

Cinematographer Menno Mans captures Fair Play with dimly lit greys and darkened night time scenes. Even Luke and Emily’s swanky apartment packs a cold blandness – simply a resting place from their corporate day jobs – not a family home. With slow-burning camera movements, we get a sense of the building psychosexual tension and unease that creeps into the narrative as it lingers around the couple.

Feeling indebted to the world of eighties and nineties psychosexual thrillers, Fair Play’s final beats feel truly unsettling as Luke attempts to tackle his emasculation head on. The fraught nature of these sharp power dynamics and the chaotic manoeuvring of romantic and sexual feelings between the pair come to a grisly head in the film’s final moments in an unsettling crescendo.

Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich never truly let us forget the romance and intensity at the heart of this couple’s relationship, even as events descend into truly bitter territory, both actors instil a fiery passion into the dynamic. Domont retains an impressive handle on events, gradually allowing these destructive exchanges to rear their head and infuse Fair Play with a razor-sharp tension.

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