Sony Pictures Classics/Broad Street Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Director: Meera Menon
Written by: Amy Fox, story by Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner, Amy Fox
Cast: Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 6/29/16
Opens: July 29, 2016
When a woman congratulates a business associate on the latter’s pregnancy, she may be stabbing her in the back (to avoid hurting the fetus, presumably). This is the case when Samantha (Alysia Reiner) wants nobody in her firm to know her condition, since people on the fast track could transfer quickly to the mommy track if the boss finds out—which is exactly what some of her colleagues wish for her. “Equity,” which is considered by many to be a feminist film (which it is), does not put women on a pedestal when comparing the fair sex to exploitative males, and no, women in this story are anything but sugar and spice and everything nice. When women bump up against the glass ceiling and even crash through, don’t be surprised if they metaphorically transform their gender to hold onto their power and maybe even let out hostility by punching a bag till it cries “uncle.”
“Equity,” which is directed by Meera Menon, whose freshman entry “Farah Goes Bang” is about a woman trying to lose her virginity while campaigning for John Kerry, highlights women in all the major roles, giving the men, however powerful they are in the business world, a one-dimensional treatment. Amy Fox, who scripted the tale, is known for the screenplay for “Heights,” which follows five New Yorkers over a twenty-four hour period. For both director and writer, “Equity” is their sophomore entries into full-length movies.
“Equity” deals not only with back-stabbing but with an investigation into Wall Street corruption involving insider trading, and like “The Big Short” contains high-finance dialogue that might zoom over the heads of us ordinary mortals. However, all you need to know at least partially to decipher the talk is that an IPO is an Initial Public Offering, when a private company goes public by selling shares to investment bankers who in turn release the shares to the public. An investment bank, as in this film, gains business from private companies by predicting the price of a new share of stock on the first day, the bank sinking or flying depending on the accuracy of the numbers.
Investment banking is a field dominated by men, but in this case Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn), a 40-ish woman as proficient with boxing gloves as she is with colorful language that used to be restricted to males, is a hot-shot banker who, like Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko, believes that greed is good. In fact, at a mentoring session for women, she declares that it’s no sin to love money, implying that proper women used to be quiet when men talked dollars.
Bishop is under pressure from Samantha (Alysia Reiner), whom she supervises, denying a recommendation for promotion, and her own boss, Randall (Lee Tergesen), who warns her for alleged underperformance: “This is not your year.” At the same time, the investment house is under surveillance by Erin Manning (Sarah Megan Thomas), who is anything but a faceless cipher but is rather a woman who uses her feminine wiles to get information and who is herself eager to make more money. While she has gone undercover, in a way, Bishop is herself using her boyfriend, Michael Connor (James Purefoy), for leaks. When Ed (Samuel Roukin), a British entrepreneur who favors hoodies over bespoke suits, is persuaded by Bishop to hire her investment firm, he stands to destroy Bishop’s career if the stock price of his company, Cache, underperforms on the day of the public offering.
The tagline for this film is “All players are not created equal,” but a more accurate one would be “Don’t trust your boyfriend, girlfriend, or business associate as far as you can throw a piano.” The plot of “Equity” does not have the delicious melodrama of either “Wall Street” or “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which means the movie is more intellectual than one which can easily rouse audience passions. Still there are some sharp scenes, as when Bishop, at the beginning of a possible nervous breakdown, shouts down an associate who offers her a chocolate chip cookie with only three chips, when she knows that the cookie should be covered with cacao.
Strong performances emerge from Anna Gunn in the principal role, Alysia Reiner as her deputy banker, and Sarah Megan Thomas as a government investigator. Production values are solid, particularly the homes of these well-to-do bankers, with first-class editing by Andrew Hafitz that pushes the story ahead at a businesslike clip. Eric Lin’s lensing is steady but relatively conventional.
Rated R. 105 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B-
Overall – B