Movie review: Equity
Director Meera Menon’s dramatic feature about female investment bankers offers a slightly different view of a male-dominated landscape, but Equity doesn’t cash in
Starring: Anna Gunn, Alysia Reiner, Sarah Megan Thomas, James Purefoy
Directed by: Meera Menon
Running time: 1hr 40 mins
By Katherine Monk
Because this movie about Wall Street was made by women, and is about women who play the big investment banking game, Equity had emotional collateral. I wanted it to work. I wanted to see how a woman would interpret the ticking hieroglyphs of our cryptic economic religion. I also wanted to see if I embraced or scorned those female souls who truly sold out to the dominant culture in order to realize their dreams.
It could have gone either way. After all, Oliver Stone wrote Gordon Gekko to repulse viewers and ward them away from greed. Instead, we embraced the demon, to the point where the American public is now poised to elect an unapologetically greed-first President.
The women in Equity are manifestations of our ever-surging money-grubbing desires. Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn) works at one of the biggest firms on Wall Street specializing in public offerings. She’s been a rock star in the world of IPOs, but when one of her deals tanks and she finds herself on her well-styled heels, she’s eager to reclaim her professional equity as well as her personal equilibrium.
She needs a score, so being the shark she is, she makes a play to bring a new tech company public. Cachet is an encryption company, but it’s got secrets of its own, and Naomi could end up back on the Prada-wearing scrap heap if she’s not on her A-game.
She’s not cuddly or cozy. He’s not warm or even emotionally available. Yet, we root for her no matter what because she’s the central character in Meera Menon’s (Farrah Goes Bang) sophomore feature, and played by Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), she’s got bad-ass gravitas.
That’s the good news, because Menon uses that prickly pathos to anchor almost every scene, allowing a gradual sense of paranoia and betrayal to seep in between the cracks of Naomi’s rock hard façade.
The erosion begins with the plot, a Wall Street standard about perceived insider trading and the potential for public failure. Yet, the real source of Naomi’s fragmentation – and the reason why Equity is interesting — is the expectations surrounding her relationships.
She’s got an arrogant boyfriend (James Purefoy) who works at the same firm, but in a different division. Her best friend from college, Samantha (Alysia Reiner), now works at the Justice Department in white-collar crime, and her junior executive Erin Manning (Sarah Megan Thomas) is looking to get ahead just as she discovers she’s having a baby.
The Wall Street stuff is handled with the same stripped-down sterility as Arbitrage, Nicholas Jarecki’s feature starring Richard Gere as a handsomer take on Madoff. There’s something square and flat about the frames, keeping everyone inside the invisible grid, locked down to the same set of reduced human values.
It’s an ugly world, and Menon captures it on an emotional and visual level. She doesn’t have to preach, but the script still has its fair share of “messages” encoded into the dialogue. As a result, we do hear shades of an argument between greed and morality, and we do feel the disappointment of personal esteem succumbing to generic greed.
We also get a few truly memorable lines: “It’s not your enemies you have to worry about… it’s your friends who stab you in the back.”
It’s Naomi who offers this take on Aristotle, which is why she’s a compelling character. She’s ground zero for the real drama as she wrestles with her own sense of right and wrong, as well as her own self-worth in a world that does not value female traits, or the female condition as a whole. This is a world where making a baby is a liability, not an asset.
Gunn does as much as she can with the tools she’s got and the dialogue she is given, but the deeper layers of this ambitious exploration feel untouched. Naomi’s internal landscape remains shrouded, and so do the emotions. Menon could have sculpted the surroundings around Naomi with a little more precision to chisel her out, and give this murky ride down the executive toilet some dramatic intensity.
Yet, it’s still fine as it is – partly because the frustrating ambiguity of every scene plays to the larger moral absence howling down this movie’s shaft, and partly because staying at arm’s length from these people just feels like the right thing to do.
THE EX-PRESS, August 18, 2016