Back when Fair Play (2023) premiered at Sundance, it became the instant hit of the festival, with Netflix buying it in what has to be a record-breaking deal. But, if you look closely, it is the kind of erotic thriller that the streaming giant has been craving to put out for quite some time.

It is sexy and twisted and dives into the psychological struggles that come with tossing the power dynamics around. Centered around a couple working under the fierce nature of the investment firm they work for, Fair Play (2023) looks at Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) and how their personal relationship is tested when their professional life takes a U-turn. 

In the following article, I’ll take an in-depth look at Fair Play, so if you haven’t seen the film yet, I recommend you to watch it and come back to it. 

*spoiler alert*

Fair Play (2023) ‘Netflix’ Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis: 

The film opens at a grand reception organized to commemorate Luke’s uncle’s wedding. While everyone is busy celebrating, Luke and Emily sneak into one of the restrooms and have passionate love before something falls from Luke’s pockets. After two years of dating each other, it is time Luke popped the question, and Emily, who is deeply in love with him, agrees. 

As the couple heads back to their apartment, Emily is excited to tell it to her mother. However, when they wake up early morning the next day and get ready for their work, we can sense a lateral shift in this love. It’s not that the morning has taken away their love for each other but that they are both also dedicated workaholics who sadly work at the same investment firm – Crest Captial. This corporate office isn’t particularly happy about colleagues involved in romantic entanglement. In fact, there’s a strict policy in place, and both Luke and Emily, who are sort of competitors, can’t risk it, keeping their relationship a secret. 

The same day, Quinn, a Portfolio manager at the firm and Luke’s current boss, is fired. He gets into a fit of anger, smashing his office before walking out. He is fired without any prior notice and speculation and rumors about Luke getting promoted and replacing him set in. Even Emily overhears some of the colleagues talking about Luke getting the job, and Emily is happy to share this rumor with him later when they are home. 

Both of them are pretty convinced that Luke’s getting promoted, and they make passionate love again. That is until Emily receives a call from a colleague asking her to meet up at a nearby bar. This is the first time we see Luke beyond his love for Emily. There’s a hint of toxicity in his reaction when he tells Emily that the call might be because their work colleagues are interested in getting into her pants. Emily is taken aback by this jealous assessment but rushes out for her meeting. 

Promotion Leads to Relationship Strain: Luke’s Mixed Feelings and Emily’s Well-Intentioned Efforts

When Emily eventually reaches the bar, she meets up with Campbell, the highest official at Crest Capital, who praises Emily’s performance at the firm and tells her that he wants her to take up Quinn’s job, basically making her Luke’s boss at Crest. Campbell tells her that Luke is not suitable for the portfolio manager role because he doesn’t have as good a rep at the office as her. Even though Emily is over the moon hearing that her hard work has finally led her to this moment, she is unable to fully enjoy it, worrying how Luke would take the news. 

When she returns home and tells Luke about the promotion, he assures her that the news makes him happy and that he is excited for her. However, this is the point where the major gap in their relationship starts to appear – especially when Emily proposes that she will use her new position to get Luke the much-deserved promotion. He says that he doesn’t want her to because he will get there on his own merit. Basically, it uncovers the huge male ego at the heart of his character and the jealousy that resides inside him in spite of Emily being his fiancé. 

The following days see a lateral shift in his behavior. Emily, who loves him unconditionally, unlike him, is worried that the promotion is troubling him, but Luke’s self-centered nature wouldn’t let him accept that. In spite of Luke telling her not to do it, Emily, who is worried about his current state, makes sure that she tells Campbell about Luke’s hard work that would help him get a shot at a big promotion himself. However, her suggestion goes southway when Campbell reveals that what she thinks of Luke is not right. In fact, his risk-taking nature has cost the firm more than bringing them any profit. 

When Emily returns home and tries to keep her personal life away from her professional, professing the two of them continue on their quest of exploring each other’s bodies as they always do, Luke starts getting distant. For him, the personal and professional have now co-joined. Emily gauges the deteriorating nature of his being and tries to help him beyond their passionate lovemaking, but he is not eager to open up to her anymore. 

The Unraveling of Emily and Luke’s Personal-Professional Dynamic

Luke’s behavior because of his bruised ego starts coming out on Emily. He starts digging into self-help books or things that will help him gather himself back up and bring his A-game to the office. Emily, who is now aware that Campbell is not too eager on Luke and only keeps him in the office because someone important recommended him, still tries her best not to overpower him or belittle him. However, Luke does the exact opposite. He starts taking his jealousy on her by gaslighting her. He even goes ahead to break her confidence by saying that she doesn’t know how to present herself as a professional, commenting on her dressing sense, and so on and so forth. 

Since all of this is at the homefront now, Luke’s misogyny and sexist comments start bothering Emily, who, after a proper raise, decides to go out and get sloshed and enjoy herself. This inadvertently brings out the worst in Luke, who now becomes like a monster whom someone can’t live with. He believes that Emily is cheating on him and even points out that she got the promotion because she slept with someone to get there and does not hold any merit. 

The self-help books do not help Luke, and he just starts defending downwards on the professional front as well. Emily is still behind him, trying her best to boost his morale. However, he placed a lot of the company’s money on one of his hunches but eventually lost it. The loss is again covered up by Emily, who puts out her investment to make it look okay, but even she starts losing faith in Luke’s professionalism.  

Luke’s situation starts deteriorating, and this time, he asks Emily to put in a word for him but fails to apologize to her for his behavior towards her these past few weeks. However, when another portfolio manager is fired, Luke decides to go ahead and take things into his own hands and make his case in front of Campbell to no avail. Since he almost pleads for the role and is embarrassed Campbell stepping on his dignity, he loses his shit and goes AWOL. 

Fair Play (2023). (L to R) Alden Ehrenreich as Luke and Phoebe Dynevor as Emily in Fair Play. Cr. Sergej Radovic / Courtesy of Netflix

That is until he comes to the office completely drunk and out of his mind after a few days and makes a scene in front of everyone. This visit is only to put Emily’s job on the line. He knows that the day is important for her but still makes sure that he outs Campbell and his company, possibly for humiliating him earlier, and quits. But before he leaves, he drops down the big reveal that he has been sleeping with Emily for the past two years, in spite of it being against company policy. 

Fair Play (2023) ‘Netflix’ Movie Ending Explained:

Do Emily and Luke make up?

Luke’s sudden U-turn baffles and angers Emily, and after keeping her cool, she is ready for what feels like a final confrontation. However, it is the day of their engagement party, and Luke sneaks into the event organized by Emily’s parents even before Emily can reach there. 

Emily is shocked to see that in spite of their relationship reaching its weathering end, Luke hasn’t gotten over his male ego getting the better of him. When she arrives there, Luke and Emily get into an absolutely dirty bought of allegations, which includes Emily breaking a beer bottle on Luke’s head. 

When this fight gets into a more intimate space – the bathroom of the venue of the party, Emily tells Luke that the root cause of their relationship going down the gutter wasn’t the promotion. It was Luke’s inability to see that a woman can be better at the job that he craves. She fires on all cylinders and tells him that if the tables were turned, he and society would expect her to be completely okay with it. 

The fight, which had reached its threshold, somehow leads to the couple having sex, but the power struggle between the two beyond the sexual landscape had reached a high for Emily, prompting Luke to take control. He forces himself on Emily, and even when she asks him to stop, he slams her face on the bathroom sink and keeps going, just to make her feel a step below him. We can see Emily wishing that they can turn this fight around and make things right, but Luke, along with his own fragile ego, has gone southwards.

He rapes her. 

Emily then walks away, covering her face and body, full of bruises, and tries to fix her career that her partner had sabotaged. 

The ending of Fair Play takes place in the couple’s apartment. When she returns home, Luke has packed all his things and plans to leave to start his own thing somewhere else. This just feels outright and blatantly wrong to Emily, who thought that after all they have gone through, that asshole would be on his knees begging for forgiveness.

Emily’s Defiance and the Shattered Masculinity of Luke in ‘Fair Play’:

When she tries to ask him to be aware of what he has done, he still takes things on his ego and blames her, saying that whatever happened between the two was her fault, too. This is typical behavior for a man who has his dignity crushed. He is someone who thinks that if a woman gets to a state of power, it’s not because of her own abilities but because of her being a woman.

There’s no sign of guilt on Luke’s face, which just makes Emily snap as she picks up a knife and points it at him. Luke tries to snatch it away, assuming that he is powerful and can easily do it, but Emily has reached the brim of her niceness and cannot take it anymore. She yields all the power she thinks she can conjure and slashes the knife at him, bringing him to his knees.

Seeing that he cannot come out of the situation unharmed, Luke breaks down and starts crying, finally apologizing for his actions and begging her to take him back. This is when Emily delivers one final blow to his dignity, which has already been shattered. She asks him to wipe his blood off her apartment’s floor and get lost. 

The end of Fair Play (2023) can be seen as a win for Emily, but since it comes at the cost of Luke violating her trust and even her body, it can only be seen as a woman getting her freedom and sanity for being in a relationship with a toxic and insecure man – something she couldn’t have realized if there wasn’t a power shift in their story. Emily tries her best to make things work, but a narcissist can only be seen through at their lowest of lows, and the finale of the movie just shows how hard it is for a woman to regain control over her life, living in a man’s world. 

Read More: Fair Play (2023) ‘Netflix’ Movie Review – Strong central performances anchor a mostly riveting drama about power struggles in the workplace

Fair Play Movie Trailer

Fair Play Movie Links: IMDbRotten Tomatoes
Fair Play Movie Cast: Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, Eddie Marsan
Where to watch Fair Play

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