Equity January 27, 2017
The best attribute of a particularly good financial thriller is the way the very thing most of its characters find themselves preoccupied with is the least interesting part of the movie. More fascinating is the undercurrent of backstabbing, infighting, and coolly textured personal relationships. Equity (2016), piercingly written by Amy Fox and smartly directed by a tone conscious Meera Menon, recognizes that truth and, for the most part, delivers cutthroat, business minded drama of Wall Street (1987) caliber.
In the film, Anna Gunn is Naomi Bishop, a wildly successful senior investment banker in the midst of her first batch of career trouble after her latest project goes awry and confidence is lost on the part of her co-workers and clients. Unwilling to let the setback get the best of her livelihood (she’s perhaps the definition of the professional married to their job), she snags a prestigious position with security company Cachet, acting as their IPO handler.
But making your money in a vocational world wherein everyone’s unhesitant to undercut your work for their own gain is a dangerous game, and soon after Naomi takes the Cachet job does she start being covertly investigated by former classmate and present-day public attorney Samantha Ryan (Alysia Reiner), a shrewd manipulator who suspects Naomi’s broker boyfriend (James Purefoy) of insider trading. And from the moment such probings commence does Naomi’s world of money and power start to crack like a China collection vulnerable to the uncontrollable forces of an earthquake.
That fall from grace, in the sure hands of the film’s makers and of Gunn, makes for enthralling entertainment, especially since Naomi’s such a confident, self-possessed character. Merely watching that assurance disintegrate is an engrossing venture. Because this is a Margo Channing character — acerbic and intimidating and experienced but, most notably, susceptible to the ideas that she’s replaceable and that her legacy may easily be overthrown by a younger upstart with more cunning and more venom than she’s ever had.
An All About Eve (1950) dynamic is best exemplified by Naomi’s relationship with her vice president (Sarah Megan Thomas), who has the potential to reveal herself as a wolf in sheep’s clothing if her superior isn’t careful enough. But it’d be ignorant to attempt to compare Equity to other women headlined tales of double-crossing in the workplace: what the film sets out to do, most obviously, is to take a genre generally dominated by men and subversively make the aforementioned sex turn into a minority amongst the crowd. And that change is charged, with Fox, Menon, and their ensemble of standout actresses proving that we do, in fact, need more movies like this one.
We don’t often get to see such an astonishing assortment of all-powerful female characters at the same level of magnitude, and Equity reminds us of what we’re missing out on. Gunn, fearsome, commands as an entrepreneur so startlingly collected that no one would ever suspect her amassing fears that she’s on a course heading for losing-it-all collapse. Thomas is impeccably understated as an ambitious status seeker with the enviable ability to keep her snakier motivations hushed. But Equity’s resident scene stealer is Reiner (who, like Thomas, both developed much of the story with Fox and co-produced the film), who goes far beyond the standards of a typical two-face and outdoes herself as a scrappy villainess with enough ruthless desire to eventually get her nose right on the sweet smell of success.
This is sharp, economic entertainment, and maybe even a game changer if you consider its conceptual approach to be potent enough. As it repeatedly happens with a lot of financial thrillers, though, its neat, almost too aloof execution makes it more exercise than masterstroke — there’s not enough skin in the game, and, having never seen these characters pass over an arc characterized by anything other than success to more success or success to failure, they stand more as types than individuals we can empathize with. Well-written types, mind you, but, nevertheless, types. B