Review by Sean Boelman
Bridgerton breakout star Phoebe Dynevor is finally getting her chance to lead a movie in the thriller Fair Play, starring opposite Solo’s Alden Ehrenreich. While Dynevor is clearly the best part of the film, that isn’t saying much, because this is simply a dull relationship background that aims higher than it is able to achieve.
The movie follows a young couple who, working at the same cutthroat hedge-fund with a secret, unapproved relationship, find their lives unraveling when one of them receives a promotion at the expense of the other. This could have been a steamy, edge-of-your-seat thriller, but the film instead ends up being just another jealousy drama.
Indeed, the worst thing about Fair Play is that it simply isn’t particularly interesting. Movies set in an aspect of society that the general public doesn’t fully understand, such as the stock market, have an immediate obstacle to overcome. However, Domont doesn’t find a way to make the viewer understand the stakes, and as such, it’s not thrilling whatsoever.
That said, perhaps the film’s biggest shortcoming is that it doesn’t engage with its themes in particularly interesting ways. Many critics have hailed the movie as a dissection of gender politics, but the film’s gender politics are frustratingly overt. Apart from a few discussions in which the protagonists argue over how she had to work hard to get where she’s at and he got his success handed to him, it hardly even mentions them.
Unlikeable characters and a compelling story are not mutually exclusive, but in this case, the audience’s frustrations with the characters’ actions will be enough to leave them feeling disillusioned. It’s clear that Domont is hoping to build a feeling of shifting allegiances, but we know the whole time that there is a villain and who it is, so the moral ambiguity completely fails.
Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor pull off the exact dynamic that the script calls for, but it’s not particularly satisfying. Often, a couple without any chemistry or sexual tension would be a distraction, but here, it’s the right amount of off-putting to be unsettling. Eddie Marsan’s supporting performance is also noteworthy, as he has a couple of scenes that will have you holding your breath.
The movie is very polished from a technical level, but it is missing the sleek kineticism of other boardroom-set satires like Industry and Succession. The score by Brian McOmber is solid, but that alone is not enough to compensate for the lack of tension that the film fails to build through its writing and editing.
Fair Play shows a lot of potential on the part of first-time writer-director Chloe Domont, but it’s not as riveting as she clearly thinks it is. How this ended up being the highest-dollar acquisition of this year’s Sundance will continue to be baffling.
Fair Play is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.