Netflix’s Wildly Controversial New Thriller ‘Fair Play’: Explained

The Google reviews show nearly equal amounts of 5-star and 1-star ratings.

Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) and Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) navigate the fine line between love and hate in Fair Play (2023) on Netflix.

Everyone’s talking about the new erotic thriller on Netflix, Fair Play, starring Phoebe Dynevor as Emily and Alden Ehrenreich as Luke. Between the first sex scene (if you know, you know) the underlying themes, and the shocking ending, viewers either loved it or hated it. The Google reviews show nearly equal amounts of 5-star and 1-star ratings now, so it’s safe to say this film isn’t for everyone. You may be disappointed if you’re looking for a fast-paced, thrilling joy ride filled with twists and turns. Instead, the pacing is slow, creating a steady build-up of anticipation of what will happen at the end. While it’s clear which direction the couple is headed, you’re given just enough to keep going until you arrive at the intense ending. Major spoilers ahead.

The poster for Fair Play on Netflix.

Luke Edmunds and Emily Meyers are coworkers at a Manhattan hedge fund, One Crest Capital. The film starts off with the impression the couple is madly in love as they keep their relationship a secret from their co-workers. At Luke’s brother’s wedding, the two sneak off to the bathroom for impromptu sex. However, Emily had started her period unbeknownst to them, causing Luke to get blood all over his mouth, which spread to their clothes. They both laugh at the inconvenience, with Luke joking, “It looks like you slaughtered a chicken.” This scene divides viewers right down the middle. Some appreciated the writers adding an event that has happened to many women. Alternatively, others thought this seemed unnecessary and only added for shock value.

Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) and Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) are coworkers who seem like they’re (secretly) in love.

While it seems like this scene is inconsequential to the overall theme, it sheds light on Luke’s character. He doesn’t panic or get mad and instead plays it off like it’s no big deal. For many women, this is refreshing and gives him bonus points. You may even start wondering what will happen because you’ve already eliminated Luke as the role that will turn this into a thriller. To some, this shows how low the bar is for women. He’s immediately seen as a good, likable character because of this one moment. However, even if a man doesn’t fret over a little (or a lot) of period blood, it doesn’t exactly mean he’s prince charming.

Everything is going well for the couple in the beginning. A ring falls out of Luke’s pocket during the messy bathroom incident, and Luke proposes. Emily is worried because Luke is drunk, though he responds, “I wasn’t drunk when I bought it,” and she excitedly accepts his proposal. However, the excitement doesn’t last long because they’ll soon receive life-altering news for both of them. The next day, they find out that one of the company’s portfolio managers is fired, and Emily overhears rumors that they’re considering promoting Luke as their replacement. She passes the news to him, and they celebrate. Instead, the CEO, Campbell, asks to have a late-night meeting to inform Emily she’s the one who’s actually receiving the promotion.

The couple’s relationship shifts when Emily is promoted over Luke at work.

Understandably, Emily is reluctant to break the news to Luke. However, he tells her he supports her and is happy for her, though he is visibly jealous. While Emily acclimates to the new role, Luke’s resentment continually grows, leading to tension in their relationship. He starts consuming himself with a coach who assists men who want to be more assertive and perform better at work. Over time, the couple struggles to have sex, leading to even more relationship strain. With themes of male fragility, many viewers questioned the scenes showing Emily pushing Luke to have sex when he doesn’t want to and repeatedly tells her no. If roles were reversed, would it be deemed inappropriate and borderline sexual assault? No matter which side you’re on, this film no doubt raises questions and opens conversations about standard gender roles.

Luke suggests a trading call to Emily, which ends up costing the company over $25 million. To correct his mistake, he offers Emily insider information that confirms the collapse of a company whose stock the hedge fund can short. Emily considers this but worries it’s an illegal trade. She instead recommends Campbell to short a different company despite it being a risk. Despite that, it was successful, and she got a million-dollar commission. Rather than celebrate with Luke, she decides to join her male coworkers at a strip club. She comes home drunk, causing another argument to stir between the couple. This scene represents Emily trying to fit in with the guys, perhaps to be taken more seriously by not conforming to gender norms. At one point, she even seems uncomfortable during a conversation before switching gears and joining in.

Emily considers acting on a dubious stock tip from Luke.

Tension continues to rise between the couple, with Luke commenting to Emily about being more assertive and critiquing how she dresses. Although Emily starts to doubt herself, she soon learns something that she knows would break Luke. While out with Campbell, she learns that hiring Luke was a favor, and Campbell had hoped he’d have quit by now. At first, Emily keeps this information to herself. When another portfolio manager is fired, Luke urges Emily to put in a good word for him, putting her in an awkward position. Although Emily tries to hint that Campbell isn’t interested in promoting Luke, Luke decides to take matters into his own hams with an over-the-top speech to Campbelll. However, Campbell already hired someone for the position.

This news causes a visible shift in Luke. Meanwhile, Emily’s overbearing mother calls to let her know she planned a surprise engagement party and has already invited everyone, including Luke’s parents, who didn’t know they were engaged. An intoxicated Luke accuses Emily of taking the job from him and using her sexuality to climb the corporate ladder. In the heat of the moment, Emily shouts at Luke that he never stood a shot and is, in fact, “the one who’s weak.” In shock, Luke storms out. 

Can Luke recover from his jealousy and salvage the relationship with Emily?

The next day, Emily goes into an important pitch to investors when Luke barges in drunk. He berates Campbell for refusing to promote him and outs his secret relationship with Emily. Outraged, Emily frantically tries to contact Luke, who ignores her. When she arrives at the engagement party, she spots Luke there, and the two get into a heated argument. Emily smashes a bottle over Luke’s head after he exclaims that she only got a promotion due to sexual favors. She storms off to the bathroom, and Luke follows her. At first, they argue before beginning consensual sex. However, then Emily tells Luke to stop, and he rapes her, aggressively shoving her face into the sink.

Once Emily returns from work the next day, Luke is at home with his belongings packed and shares his plan to move out. His nonchalance enrages Emily, leading her to demand an apology for raping her. Unsatisfied with his response, she grabs a kitchen knife and tells him to beg for her forgiveness, cry, and tell her he’s nothing. Luke says he’s sorry and breaks down crying when repeating, “I’m nothing.” Emily then orders him to clean up the floor and to get out.

While Fair Play confronts relatable themes of male fragility and how it harms relationships, Emily is also a villain in the film, sexually assaulting Luke and threatening him with a knife.

The film’s overall theme is male fragility and feminine rage. With such a controversial message, it’s no surprise the reviews are so divided. Some find the ending empowering, with Emily rising to the top on her own accord and standing up to a man who couldn’t handle it. It also sheds light on men resenting women, especially in relationships, who out-perform them. Rather than being accountable for their work ethic, they blame everyone else. Luke admitting “he’s nothing” seemed to make him finally see that his shortcomings cost him the position. Because he also accuses her of sleeping with the boss to get the job, it implies she wasn’t talented enough to earn the promotion. He believes there’s no way Emily, a woman, would be able to receive such a high promotion without offering some sort of sexual favor.

Alternatively, others disliked Emily stooping down to Luke’s level. Rather than leaving or standing up for herself, she enacted violence the way he did. Others felt like the movie sent the wrong message. While there are certainly men like Luke, it’s not necessarily the norm. No matter where your opinion lies, Fair Play undeniably set out what it aimed to do: spread a message and get people talking.

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Meet The Author

Brandy Eaklor is a writer, artist, and content creator who specializes in entertainment and horror subjects. Her favorite horror movies are Hereditary and The Strangers.