I never thought I’d see the day, but Chloe Domont’s Fair Play made me root for Wall Street. Maybe because, unlike The Wolf of Wall Street, it doesn’t revel in barbaric excess. Or maybe because, unlike The Big Short, it doesn’t attempt to teach audiences about the complicated world of finance. But most likely, it’s because Fair Play gave us the perfect Wall Street underdog: a woman.
This charged psychological drama—which is somewhat incorrectly being billed as an erotic thriller—premiered at Sundance Film Festival last weekend and was purchased by Netflix shortly after, in a deal that Deadline reports is in the $20 million range. Phoebe Dynevor (best known as Daphne on Bridgerton) and Alden Ehrenreich (Han Solo from Solo: A Star Wars Story) star as a recently engaged couple, Emily and Luke, who work for the same cutthroat financial firm. It’s technically against company policy to date your coworkers, so because both Emily and Luke are low-level analysts, they keep their relationship secret. Then Emily gets a surprise promotion—a promotion that was rumored to be for Luke, no less—and suddenly she’s not so low-level anymore.
Without relying on clichés, Domont masterfully highlights the casual sexism Emily endures from both her male coworkers and her fiancé. Everyone, including Luke, instantly assumes the CEO Campbell (played by a magnetic and sinister Eddie Marsan) either slept with Emily or wants to sleep with her. Luke, under the guise of concern, asks Emily multiple times if the boss “tried anything” with her. (He didn’t, for the record. He was genuinely impressed by her career and work performance.)
To say the promotion adds tension to Emily and Luke’s relationship is an understatement. Here, Domont cleverly uses sex as a way to drive both plot and character development. When the couple thinks the promotion is Luke’s, they have enthusiastic, celebratory sex the moment they return home. When they find out the job is Emily’s, she comes home to an empty apartment and finds Luke drinking alone at a bar. He says all the correct, congratulatory things, sure. But some subtle acting choices from Ehrenreich make it clear the well-wishes are forced. He turns down her offers for sex and fancy dinners. He urges her not to pick up work calls after hours. And he quietly seethes from his open office desk, as he watches Emily chum it up with Campbell behind her glass office doors.
If there’s one complaint to be had with Fair Play, it’s that while Dynevor and Ehrenreich deliver phenomenal individual performances, their romantic chemistry is lacking. It’s hard to buy that these two were ever in love, even when they are having sex—and then getting engaged—in a public restroom. That said, it’s all too easy to believe them once they start hating each other. Ehrenreich simmers with barely-concealed loathing that will send a chill down your spine, while Dynevor slowly hardens her initial wide-eyed optimism into cold, calculating determination. And it must be said that Eddie Marsan completely embodies the old-school, no-bullshit CEO in a way that is so compelling, you can’t help but understand why everyone at this company so desperately seeks his approval.
Like all Wall Street movies, Fair Play is also a New York movie. Domont flips between Emily and Luke’s terrible, one-bedroom apartment in Queens to the glossy, pristine Financial District office where they work; a visual representation of the double lives they lead. She transitions between locations via the thundering Q-line subway. (This is another point of contention between the couple when Emily starts getting a company car ride to work instead.) Editor Franklin Peterson deserves a shout-out here for his fantastic use of sound, from the deafening train, to the dripping tap, to the blaring alarm, to the ringing phone. All contribute to the chord of resentment between Emily and Luke, which is pulled taut until it eventually, inevitably, snaps.
Fair Play might not go as hard as you’re expecting, in the end. Gone Girl, this is not. But despite a somewhat underdeveloped third act, the movie eventually finds its way to a satisfying conclusion that managed to make me cheer for Wall Street corruption. Now that’s some true movie magic.
Fair Play will release on Netflix at a later date. The release date has not yet been announced.