A film about men and women, love and hate, sex and violence, “Fair Play” explores the aftermath of a promotion that comes between two hedge fund analysts, Emily Meyers (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke Edmunds (Alden Ehrenreich), who are secretly romantically involved. With her debut feature, writer-director Chloe Domont explores male-female relationships and the way they are complicated by intimacy (physical and emotional), ambition (professional and personal) and gender roles (traditional and contemporary).
“I set out to make a thriller about power dynamics between men and women on the ugliest level,” Domont tells Variety.
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Her masterful control of technique and tone behind the camera elevates the conflict between Emily and Luke to something unexpectedly universal, even though the film’s narrative context — the cutthroat world of finance — feels viscerally specific.
“Women don’t make their way up in that world — very few do,” Domont says. “Everyone who gets ahead in that world is someone that looks like Luke, [so] what does her success say about his value and his worth? His inability to face that is part of what leads him to go to these ugly places searching for any answer that isn’t pointing at him and his own capabilities, or lack thereof.”
Rather than capturing the glossy sterility of Wall Street (or, indeed, films like Oliver Stone’s 1980s mainstay “Wall Street” or the more recent “Wolf of Wall Street”), the director luxuriates in a rich color palette that hints at the moneyed enclaves that both characters aspire to inhabit. As Emily’s pro- motion continues to exert more pressure on the presumed “natural order” of their work and personal lives, Domont increasingly sets her female protagonist in contrast to the world of men, literally and metaphorically, that surrounds her.
“Her red hair was something that I wanted to be the brightest color in the room,” Domont explains. “I wanted to have a world of navy and gray suits, but the idea is that she is special. Really all the way that we shoot her throughout is just to show how isolated women feel by their success when they’re with men who are threatened by that.” She also amplifies the subjectivity of Emily’s experience by holding the camera on her even when others are talking to or about her. “To me, it’s so much more tense when you’re on her and you’re just hearing people gossiping in the background than actually cutting to them gossip.”
Domont further maps the power play between Emily and Luke through their sex life — the ebb and flow of their respective libidos as their stocks (sometimes literally) rise and fall, and eventually, via the opportunity it provides to showcase their control, or lack thereof, of each other. “The arc of their sexual relationship is definitely in parallel to everything that’s going on in the film,” she says. “For me, the film always had to escalate to sexual assault because that’s the only way for Luke to reclaim the power over Emily in that moment, or that’s how he feels is the only way.”
That the conflict between Emily and Luke escalates — inevitably, per the filmmaker — to such a heightened, violent moment would suggest that the story that leads to it is so intense that it’s unpleasant or difficult to watch. But she renders these characters so richly, and their world in such authenticity, that the deterioration of their relationship is riveting. It’s a balance between engaging viewers and challenging them that Domont aims to strike in her future work.
“I’ve always believed that the tougher the subject matter, the more entertaining a film needs to be,” she says.
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