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Review: Equity (2016)

Equity (2016)

Directed by: Meera Menon

Premise: An investment banker (Anna Gunn) guides a social media company toward their IPO. She investigates rumors about flaws in the company’s security settings and combats the egos of the CEO and other bankers while also being probed by an unscrupulous federal prosecutor.

What Works: Equity is several things but it is primarily an ethical drama in the same mold as Oliver Stone’s Wall Street and Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes. Equity is another title in the genre of recession cinema and like a lot of similar movies it takes place in the context of big Wall Street banks in which people pursue fortunes but risk losing their integrity. This story focuses on Naomi, a senior investment banker played by Anna Gunn, who is married to her work and loves the thrill of a financial conquest. She’s operating in a man’s world, a fact that the filmmakers always remind us of. Equity is a good case for the value of increasing the diversity behind the camera; this film was written and directed by women and as such it brings a female perspective to the story. Naomi has a different experience in the workplace than her male colleagues and she is judged differently because of her sex. The female experience also plays out in the subplot of Erin, Naomi’s assistant played by Sarah Megan Thomas. Erin is in the early stages of pregnancy and she realizes that her burgeoning family is a threat to her career. She’s also treated condescendingly by some of her male colleagues, especially the CEO of the startup. The film’s regard for the female experience sheds some new light on a topic and a setting that have been seen before and Equity demonstrates a great deal of nuance and complexity. Admirably, the sexism on display in Equity does not consume the movie; this is not a victim narrative. Rather, sexism is part of the culture of the workplace and a reality of these women’s lives and it is smartly incorporated into the plot in a way that complicates the relationships. As a piece of recession cinema, Equity isn’t merely an anti-Wall Street screed nor is the film an apologia for it.  This film is a story about characters competing neck and neck to get ahead and skirting legal and ethical lines to do so. Equity has a certain amount of empathy for these people in that they’re in a highly competitive job but a compliance problem could end their careers. The filmmakers recognize that tension and play upon it, allowing these characters to brush up against the ethical boundaries and confront the consequences of their ambition.

What Doesn’t: How a viewer feels about Equity is partly going to depend upon how he or she feels about Wall Street in particular and capitalism in general. Early on, the movie establishes its admiration for the skill, drive, and intelligence involved in investment banking but also a critical regard for what a highly competitive environment does to personal relationships. Viewers who have a rabid dislike for Wall Street are going to be put off by Equity and in that respect the filmmakers don’t do themselves a lot of favors. Everyone is trying to outmaneuver each other and so characters of Equity are frequently awful and tend toward being one note. Their anti-social qualities are part of the point of the movie but Equity does not place the audience with an accessible point of view character like Zachary Quinto’s role in Margin Call nor are these people as much fun as the fraternity of The Wolf of Wall Street. There are also quite a few aspects of Equity that echo or directly lift from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, such as Anna Gunn’s money monologue and the insider trading plot twists. The film loses its way in the ending. It concludes too abruptly and abandons Gunn’s protagonist for some of the periphery characters whose subplots ought to have been more fully developed over the course of the film.

Bottom Line: Equity tells a compelling story and features some terrific performances by Anna Gunn and Sarah Megan Thomas. Within the genre of recession cinema, Equity is not quite as good as Margin Call or The Big Short but it does present a fresh take on the familiar themes of financial dramas. 

Episode: #611 (September 11, 2016)