January 27, 2023

Sundance 2023 Review: “Fair Play”


In a generally depressed indie film market, Netflix shelled out a reported $20M at Sundance for Chloe Domont’s feature writing/directing debut FAIR PLAY.  The splurge made sense:  Fair Play has that combination of strong storytelling and hot-button ideas on its mind that should allow it to temporarily take over the internet when it launches widely, and possibly even propel it to mainstream success.  The tinderbox premise is simple enough to be one of those reenactments that corporate employees get in their HR tutorials.  When we meet Emily (Phoebe Dynevor, from Bridgerton) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich, ready to escape the shadow of Solo), they’ve been a couple for 2 years, and are freshly engaged.  They’re also co-workers at a Wall Street hedge fund who’ve thus far hidden their relationship from their office.  Phoebe and Luke are both mid-level financial analysts, but their immediate supervisor is on the way out, and the buzz is that Luke is in line for the promotion, a prospect that they’re both happy to celebrate.  Except… it’s actually Emily who gets promoted, and that sets them on an increasingly ugly path, as Luke proves himself completely unable to handle her success.  Although Fair Play treads in some of the steps of other finance-world sagas like Succession and Industry, it has the advantage of telling a finite story rather than one that has to continue for multiple seasons, so it can hurtle its protagonists to the end of their world in a brisk 113 minutes.  It’s also a notable accomplishment on Domont’s part that while Emily is clearly our point of view character, and obviously the morally right one of the two, the darker and more unsavory sides of her psyche are revealed as well, even as Luke’s awfulness is shaded by insecurity and self-hate.  Both actors are sensational, pushing beyond anything they’ve been asked to do on screen before, and there’s a notable turn as well by Eddie Marsan as the head of their office.  Domont’s dialogue is sharp and often pitiless, willing to dig past truisms about victimization and the evils of the system to the point of final go-for-broke sequences that are already controversial.  She, and Fair Play, refuse to make it easy for us.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."