By Lynn Venhaus

Sexual politics and corporate backstabbing are a toxic mix in “Fair Play,” an inevitable downward spiral of a film about how maintaining a relationship is challenging when things get complicated at work and home.

A recently engaged couple, who must keep their relationship secret at their cutthroat financial firm because it’s against company policy, are pushed to the brink after an unexpected promotion throws them into a personal and professional quagmire.

Emily (Phoebe Dynevor), Long Island girl with a Harvard degree, and Yale educated Luke (Alden Ehrenreich), a veteran of Goldman Sachs, are madly in love and about to share their romance with Human Resources when there is a coveted management position open. She overhears it may be him, but the reptilian boss (Eddie Marsan) wants her.

In her feature film debut, writer-director Chloe Domont confronts the elephant in the room, that no one seems to talk about — why a man’s promotion is considered a success, but a woman’s is a threat in a relationship?

You may think you know where “Fair Play” is headed, with the gender gameplay building in intensity, so that you feel it’s not just a matter of “if” but “when” for a meltdown to occur.

Domont tackles this fast-changing post-#MeToo world, where we have progressive couples who support feminist ideals yet were raised with a traditional view of masculinity, so a woman’s success could make a man feel less worthy, and although they try to suppress it, very real human emotions eventually emerge, sometimes in messy and ugly ways.

In a high-stakes environment, the egos on display are heightened here, setting up shifting dynamics, and sinister overtones. That explosive tension forces this off the rails in the third act, going from uncomfortable to painful as it strains credibility.

Set in New York City, the two main locations become increasingly claustrophobic – both in the sleek high-rise office and the tiny apartment they share (and that’s intentional, a key element to making the atmosphere off-kilter). Cinematographer Menno Mans and editor Franklin Peterson escalate the tension through intimate close-ups and awkward confrontations.

Domont, a veteran of directing “Ballers,” “Billions” and an episode of “Suits,” wanted to make a modern horror story, and the psychological aspect is intriguing, yet does it go too far? As agonizing as the climax is, the finale is both harrowing and strange.

Rich Sommer, Sia Alipour, Sebastian De Souza

In her script, Domont has fashioned a realistic world of finance, nimble with the daily aspects of hedge-fund business, and production designer Steven Summersgill effectively conveys the high-rise office.

The acting is first-rate, and Dynevor, who broke out as Daphne on Season 1 of “Bridgerton,” and Ehrenreich, who played young Han Solo in Ron Howard’s ‘Star Wars’ story prequel, trusted each other enough to go to dark places. Marsan, a veteran character actor, is chilling here in the cavalier way he treats people and how power and greed have blackened his soul. Would you take what horrible insult he hurls at Emily? (Seriously, I’d like to know.)

The ‘one of the boys’ atmosphere is further emphasized through supporting players Sebastian De Souza as Rory, Jamie Wilkes as Quinn, Sia Alipour as Arjun, Rich Sommer (“Mad Men”) as Paul, and Brandon Basir as Dax – all portraying different levels.

Whatever you think about the conclusion, this film is meant to be provocative, a conversation starter that will result in more than a few heart-to-hearts. While the ending is subject to interpretation, images will haunt and questions will linger.

Phoebe Dynevor as Emily

“Fair Play” is a 2023 drama-thriller written and directed by Chloe Domont starring Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, and Eddie Marsan.
It is rated R for pervasive language, sexual content, some nudity, and sexual violence, and the run time is 1 hour, 53 minutes. It opened in select theaters Sept. 29 and began streaming on Netflix Oct. 6. Lynn’s Grade: C.

By Alex McPherson

Powered by enthralling performances from Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich, director Chloe Domont’s “Fair Play” is an effective, if exhausting, thriller exploring gender politics and self-destructive ambition in a corporate world devoid of empathy.

The film follows Emily (Dynevor) and Luke (Ehrenreich), who we first meet on the dance floor of a New York City wedding reception. They sneak away to the bathroom to have sex, and in the middle of it, Luke’s engagement ring falls out of his pocket. Turns out, he was planning on proposing to Emily. She enthusiastically says yes. Luke and Emily are happy, and everything seems nice and dandy — so long as, we soon learn, their shared workplace doesn’t learn about their romance, and Emily’s chatterbox mother doesn’t spill the beans to anyone else. 

Emily and Luke are both stock analysts at the same company, One Crest Capital, where inter-office romance goes against company policy, and sanity goes to die. Analysts work long hours in hopes of ascending the ranks of power, hungering at any opportunity for a promotion by the hand of coldly intimidating Campbell (Eddie Marsan). 

Suited-up workers (mostly men) live and breathe financial jargon; each decision to buy or sell is based on insider information they’ve plugged into with obsessive attention to detail, with plenty of toxicity to spare in their predatory glances and fake-nice banter. They’re opportunistic, skilled at their jobs, and always on the lookout for blood in the water like well-dressed sharks.

After OCC’s “PM” (portfolio manager) is unceremoniously fired — the frustrated sap smashes up his office with a golf club — rumors spread that Campbell is eyeing Luke to take over the role. Luke is thrilled, as is Emily; this is Luke’s big break, an acknowledgement of his hard work and dominance over his peers. Things don’t play out like Luke anticipates, though. Emily gets a late-night call inviting her for drinks with Campbell, who informs her that she’s going to be the new PM. 

Let’s just say, Luke is none too thrilled, despite his performative attempts at congratulating Emily. And thus begins the couple’s downward spiral, as deep-seated insecurities and OCC’s cancerous work culture seeps into their very beings — tearing them apart from the inside out. And we get to see it all for our entertainment.

Indeed, “Fair Play” is a striking, viscerally uncomfortable viewing experience unfolding like a train wreck we’re powerless to stop. With crackling dialogue, committed performances, and nerve-shredding editing, the film is an impressive feature debut from Domont, albeit one whose pedal-to-the-metal approach becomes numbing after a certain point. It’s a feel-bad, socially-aware thriller spiked with cynicism and fatalism.

Alden Ehrenreich as Luke

Gluing all this together are two attention-grabbing performances from Dynevor and Ehrenreich making the whole ordeal even more (intentionally) painful to witness. They’re both beautiful people, given plenty of time to enjoy each other’s bodies and exchange playful banter, but the shadow Emily’s promotion casts over their connection is keenly felt from the moment it’s revealed. Emily and Luke’s subsequent conversations take on a different tone entirely, from passive-aggressive to viciously confrontational.

Dynevor adeptly sells Emily’s hard-working mindset and gradual realization of her crumbling relationship — her efforts to cling to what’s left of her bond with Luke (mostly sex) are stifled by Luke’s unwillingness to reciprocate: it’s the one thing he has power over that he can spitefully refuse her. As Emily weaves between her personas to fit in with the “boy’s club,” her ability to maintain composure slips further and further, erupting in righteous fury in the harrowing third act, as her desperate attempts to hold onto the impossible backfire. 

Through subtle (and not so subtle) body language and dialogue, Dynevor imbues Emily with humanity lacking from the majority of male characters. “Fair Play” doesn’t necessarily endorse Emily’s drastic decisions later on, but she’s depicted as the far more three-dimensional, sympathetic character than Luke ever is. This isn’t necessarily an issue, but Domont’s attempts to be provocative fall somewhat short when Emily’s side of the conflict is so easy to latch onto compared to Luke’s, whose ingrained issues are apparent early on and irreversible.

Luke, by contrast, is a deeply insecure, jealous man schooled on problematic forms of masculinity where any threat to his ego and status hits like a sledgehammer: a sleight against his work-obsessed being that he’s worked hard to cultivate. Ehrenreich is excellent, as always, perpetually looking like a sad puppy behind Emily’s back — rendering Luke’s steep de-evolution into rageful hate all the more believable and chilling, albeit telegraphed early on. The further Emily climbs, the further Luke sinks into bitterness: both sides are unable to extricate their personal lives from their work lives, resulting in alarming sequences brought vividly to life by the actors, who deliver Domont’s acerbic screenplay with fanged precision.

Stylistically, “Fair Play” operates at a high level, too, enhancing the ferocity of the performances. Menno Mans’ cinematography is oppressively constrained, closing in on Emily and Luke as violent tension escalates. While not filmed in New York City, Mans’ camera, combined with jarring sound design (heightening sounds of a screeching metro or speeding cars to cold, uncaring, machinelike effect) beautifully conveys the treacherous world Luke and Emily have brought themselves into. Ominous skyscrapers loom overhead observing their every move. It’s almost like we’re watching a horror film.

By the third act, when things really go off the rails, “Fair Play” can be tough to stomach, and hopelessly pessimistic in its depiction of two characters losing their grasp on reality. But that’s exactly how we’re supposed to feel: stressed and panicked, with no room to breathe until the credits roll and we’re finally removed from this unpleasant conflict. The hysterics can be tiring, yet “Fair Play” is still compulsively watchable from start to finish, with ever-relevant themes that linger.

“Fair Play” is a 2023 drama-thriller written and directed by Chloe Domont starring Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, and Eddie Marsan

It is rated R for pervasive language, sexual content, some nudity, and sexual violence, and the run time is 1 hour, 53 minutes.

It opened in select theaters Sept. 29 and began streaming on Netflix Oct. 6. Alex’s Grade: B+.

By Lynn Venhaus
On Sunday night, the Critics Choice Awards will air beginning at 6 p.m. CST on the CW (ch. 11 in STL). I promise you, it will be way better than the Golden Globes.

For one, I vote as a member of Critics Choice Association (formerly Broadcast Film Critics Association). Hehehehe. I am one of 400+ members. Secondly, we have a diverse membership and our nominations reflect that, unlike the 87 at HFPA.

As far as the show goes, this is what our leadership reports:

We will have virtually all our nominated performers participating virtually in our show on Sunday night. Our lineup of Presenters includes Kevin Bacon, Angela Bassett, Mayim Bialik, Phoebe Dynevor, Morgan Freeman, Gal Gadot, Jim Gaffigan, Chris Hemsworth, Jameela Jamil, Eva Longoria, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jared Padalecki, Kyra Sedgwick, Yara Shahidi, Courtney B. Vance, John David Washington, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

But once the Critics Choice winner is announced and all the nominees have reacted, we will focus full-screen on the live acceptance speech, without awkwardly returning to the other nominees. And we will offer generous clips showcasing our nominated performances, a treat for audiences who may be inspired to discover movies and series they want to catch up on.

Hosted for the third year in a row by Taye Diggs and with our special See Her Award going to Zendaya, we hope and expect that our 26th annual Critics Choice Awards show will be our best ever. And as the world starts to return to normal in the coming months, we will continue to shine our light on the best the creative community has to offer at our Critics Choice Real TV Awards, Critics Choice Documentary Awards, and Critics Choice Super Awards.

Me and Seth Meyers at 2020 Awards

Last month, we brought our 3rd annual Celebration of Black Cinema to a national audience for the first time, reinforcing our commitment to championing the broadest spectrum of popular entertainment. If it’s as fun as it was last year, I will be very proud and happy! (I attended the ceremony in Santa Monica last January 2020).

It was really hard to pick winners this year — so many good nominees.

Enjoy, movie lovers!

(And if you want to read/listen to my reviews, I am in the Webster-Kirkwood Times; KTRS Radio (segment with Ray Hartmann on Sound Cloud — just go to station website, under Shows, click St Louis in the Know, and the list of audio clips is right there; Reel Times Trio podcast (all posted on Facebook page); and my website,, which is a work in progress, but content is growing.)

Me and Awkwafina at 2020 Awards