Fair Play: A tale of ambition, relationship erosion in the corporate world
  • Release Date: 13/10/2023
  • Platform: Netflix
  • Cast:Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, Eddie Marsan
  • Director:Chloe Domont

“A heart breakingtale of ambition and relationship erosion in the cut throat corporate world”

Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) work as financial analysts in one of the hottest investment management firms, led by an autocratic and unforgiving boss, Campbell (Eddie Marsan). Emily and Luke are deeply in love with each other, and the film begins on the day they propose to each other, setting the stage for a happy married life. However, their firm prohibits romantic relationships among its employees, so they share a home far away from their workplace. It’s after the first 10-15 minutes of the film when they set out for work that we realize how different their personal and professional lives are. They are just as uncompromising as their boss in this regard, which is wonderfully documented through some of the initial scenes that depict their typical day at work.

Emily overhears some colleagues gossiping about Luke taking over a managerial position in the firm after the previous incumbent is unceremoniously removed from the role. The couple is elated, and their life appears to be on the right track. However, something unexpected happens that changes everything for them. Instead of Luke, Emily is offered the managerial position. The moment she agrees to take on the responsibility, she senses that her life will never be the same again.

Luke is visibly disappointed at not securing the position and, deep down, he holds Emily responsible for the loss. His worst qualities and negative attitudes towards women in the workplace gradually begin to surface. It’s only a matter of time before he has his first major outburst at her. This not only serves as a warning of more troubling behaviour to come but also forces Emily to start questioning their relationship. She is also forced to weigh between her relationship and her career and determine which one of the two is more important to her.

“Fair Play” offers a fascinating look at how mindless aspiration and the relentless pursuit of a particular goal can consume people and transform them into individuals they despise. What’s even more concerning in this regard is the fact that these individuals often fail to notice the changes within themselves. This film serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting how easily we can become victims of our own false vanities and the obsession to attain specific objectives, often without considering the cost: whether we are sacrificing valuable relationships and things that hold far greater importance.

Through the characters of Emily and Luke, the film gut-wrenchingly portrays the changes individuals undergo on two distinctly different levels. As Emily becomes more successful, she is compelled to interact with Luke in a certain manner in the workplace, which is utterly unacceptable to him. She doesn’t disrespect him or berate him for significant mistakes he makes, but even minor actions and comments throughout her day become incredibly challenging for Luke to accept. For him, taking orders from her is particularly painful, as he had always envisioned himself in a higher position, and he believes that she doesn’t deserve the job, assuming she secured it solely because she is an attractive woman. He even suspects that she may have obtained and retained the position by engaging in inappropriate relationships with her superiors. He soon confronts Emily with these accusations, leaving her crestfallen to hear such sentiments from the person she was planning to marry.

Emily’s character undergoes a pronounced transformation throughout the film. Initially, she’s thrilled at the idea of Luke getting the position. Surprisingly, when she is promoted instead, she’s happy but more concerned about how Luke will react. Her worst fears soon materialize one after another, and she gradually begins to place more value on her career than Luke’s presence in the same company. She discovers the management’s true feelings towards Luke, which weighs heavily on her.

Furthermore, she’s increasingly burdened by how Luke’s behaviour towards her changes, along with mounting pressure from her parents to announce their union. She even displays signs of sexual frustration when, due to his mental state, Luke is unable to satisfy her sexually. As their conflicts intensify and their relationship seems to be deteriorating, we witness her transformation into an individual who has taken control of her life and demands the respect she deserves from Luke, albeit in a rather strange way.

Up to this point, I’ve been expressing my enthusiasm for the story, the characters, and the drama of the film. It felt as if these characters were real people, and I was observing their lives from a voyeuristic perspective without them being aware of my presence. This profound impact was made possible not only because of the film’s excellent direction, cinematography, and editing but primarily due to the fantastic portrayals of the primary characters by Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, and Eddie Marsan.

Phoebe Dynevor’s portrayal of Emily is simply outstanding. I found myself completely engrossed in her expressions, mannerisms, and the palpable tension and claustrophobic atmosphere she brought to the character. My heart truly ached for her predicament, which only worsened as the film progressed, and all through no fault of her own. Phoebe was able to convey this tragedy with impeccable expressions and timing, making it challenging for even the most casual audience not to connect with her character. She is equally remarkable in her brief moments with Luke, where the two share fleeting periods of romance and sexual intimacy. Her performance in these moments is so well-executed that it carries over to the later sequences, where we witness their relationship disintegrate, adding significant drama and heartache to the story. Her brief moments of taking offence are portrayed with such power and honesty that they elevate those scenes to a different level, earning the viewer’s respect for the character.

Alden Ehrenreich delivers a marvellous performance in portraying the disintegration of a man who holds a high opinion of himself but is seen as mediocre in the eyes of his employer. Adding insult to injury, the woman he loves, whom he never considered competition, not only secures the position he covets but also leaves him to grapple with the possibility that his demeaning views of women might be validated by her actions with her bosses. The weight of not achieving a professional goal he has long aspired to, coupled with losing the last person who truly captivated him, becomes too much for Luke to bear. We witness him spiralling into an abyss from which there seems to be no escape. This descent into darkness occurs at a deliberate pace, allowing the audience to observe every facet of his disintegration.

Alden Ehrenreich’s performance is exceptional in capturing every dimension of this complex character, all without going overboard. He imbues his portrayal with a heartbreaking authenticity, making it increasingly difficult to love him, yet even more challenging to hate him.

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Eddie Marsan portrays Campbell, who is my favourite autocratic boss since Jeremy Irons portrayed Tuld in “Margin Call.” There’s hardly anything I can say about his character that would suffice to praise his scintillating performance. It would be best if you watched the film and witnessed him work his magic, even in a relatively small role in the film.

The film’s success lies not only in its compelling storyline but also in the exceptional performances of its cast. It serves as a cautionary tale, prompting viewers to reflect on the fine line between personal ambition and the importance of maintaining authentic relationships. “Fair Play” is a gripping exploration of the human psyche, love, and the consequences of unchecked professional aspirations, making it a must-see for those who appreciate nuanced character development and thought-provoking storytelling. It is also a must-watch for all those labouring away in various corporate sectors and amassing wealth but have already forgotten their initial goals for that money. This film is extremely important and relevant in the current context and needs to be watched and appreciated.

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

The views expressed in this article are that of the reviewer and do not reflect EastMojo’s position.

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