The career of Alden Ehrenreich has – so far – been one without much progress. He was the star of Beautiful Creatures 10 years ago, a film that made little impact. Since then, he’s been in a Woody Allen movie, a Coen Brothers movie, and played a young Han Solo, none of which made him a star. After a few years away from movies, he’s back with a bang in 2023, with roles in Cocaine Bear, Oppenheimer, and now Netflix’s Fair Play.
Ehrenreich plays Luke, who’s in a relationship with Emily (Phoebe Dynevor), which they must keep secret because of a no-fraternization policy at the hedge fund where they both work. Working in finance, both are naturally ambitious, although Luke is a bit more naked in his desires. When Emily gets promoted ahead of Luke, he is at first is supportive, but is soon unable to hide his jealousy.
Written and directed by Chloe Domont in her feature film debut, the film tracks the devolution of Luke and Emily’s relationship, going from hot and heavy to heavily antagonistic. The sexual politics at play in the story are front and center, with Emily being the lone visible woman working in an otherwise all-male office. Luke initially bristles at whispers that Emily was promoted for reasons other than her financial skills, but working as her underling starts to bring out the worst in him.
Because Luke and Emily start the film as equals, the power dynamics take on an unusual form. Emily arguably does much more for Luke after her promotion than he would for her if the roles were reversed, sometimes to her own detriment. His blindness to her helpfulness, which eventually turns to suspicion, speaks volumes about the fragile ego of many men.
Another type of reversal is the sexuality depicted in the film. Most films of this type build up to the big sex sequences, using them as a culmination of a particular relationship. But Domont starts the film with them, and uses the absence of them later on as a way to denote how much Luke and Emily have drifted from each other.
It’s understandable why Domont set the film in a hedge fund, given the disparity between men and women in the field. But the scenes in which the employees, led by boss Campbell (Eddie Marsan), talk about the intricacies of their work just don’t pop, mostly because the dense terminology feels like the characters are speaking a foreign language.
Ehrenreich and Dynevor (best known for Bridgerton) each start off great, but as the film goes along and they’re required to get increasingly histrionic, they both become less believable. Domont saves most of the drama for the film’s final act; if the film was more balanced in its ups and downs, the two leads might have been able to even out their performances as well.
Still, the film has a propulsion to it that keeps it interesting, and the intensity of the final sequence is sufficient to forgive any earlier missteps. And, unfortunately yet again for Ehrenreich, it’s Dynevor who leaves the bigger impression, making a case that she should get many more lead roles in the future.
Fair Play is now playing in select theaters; it debuts on Netflix on October 6.