Film Review: Equity

On-target, suspenseful, female-centered financial drama is another smart, timely ride through the Wall Street jungle.
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Equity, an appropriate title in both its ethical and financial contexts, is a kind of distaff Margin Call that matches the polish, pacing and immediate relevance of the 2011 indie hit relating to the 2008 financial crisis. Equity brings us to the present with the greed-driven scurry of a young tech company drooling to go public and the investment banker eager to lead that IPO.

As another cinematic close-up on the world of finance, it isn’t as brilliant and intricate as The Big Short, as sleazy as The Wolf of Wall Street or as broad as Wall Street and its sequel. Nor is it as much a thriller as the Richard Gere-starrer Arbitrage or as much a saga as The Social Network. But Equity is in their league and distinguishes itself by serving up a female protagonist—hot-shot senior investment banker Naomi (Anna Gunn), who, as an IPO (Initial Public Offering) star at esteemed investment company Remson Partners, is “thisclose" to being promoted to a global position except for losing some luster with one IPO mess-up that dogs her. Single-minded, money-obsessed and icy, she is determined to land another important company to take public. For fun and fitness, this lady fiercely works out by boxing.

Naomi sets her sights on red-hot tech company Cachet, a still-private social-media darling that claims uniquely impenetrable security and immunity to hackers. The guy to woo is Cachet big kahuna Ed (Samuel Roukin), a cocky young Brit and familiar Silicon Valley type with his pasty Mark Zuckerberg-like face and rock-solid assurance.

Among Naomi’s roadblocks, or maybe they’re just detours, are her boyfriend Michael (James Purefoy), a hunky Brit who’s a Remson broker working another corner of Naomi’s company where there should be a China Wall separating what each does. Another obstruction might be Naomi’s ambitious subordinate Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas, an Equity producer), eager for a promotion that Naomi denies. And maybe more roadblock than speed lane is Naomi’s former college chum Samantha (Alysia Reiner, also one of the film’s producers), a lawyer who works in the public sector investigating white-collar crime for the Justice Department.

After a long separation since college, Naomi and Samantha meet up again at an alumni mentoring event, where they serve as panelists sharing insights into their jobs and philosophies. Naomi, a compelling speaker, doesn’t hold back and tells the audience without blinking that she loves money and it’s money that gets her up in the morning. Samantha doesn’t blink either.

Another wild-card character is sleazy hedge-fund honcho Benji (Craig Bierko), a regular at the cool downtown bars financial types frequent. He waves monetary carrots and pumps Michael for insider tips, just “an edge” that will help him guess the offering price. The vise tightens when crosstown at the D.A.’s office, Samantha is assigned to investigate Michael’s coziness to Benji. And to Naomi. Matters, of course, get tangly and nasty as Erin gets cozy with Ed and embittered, nerdy Cachet coder Marin (Sophie von Haselberg) tells Remson that the company, whose major selling point is its unique security, may be hacker-bait. Twists, turns and gyrating prices continue to complicate Naomi’s path as characters cross lines and one another. Paranoia and mistrust run through the film as sure as money through the high-end Tasmanian sea trout dinners they order.

Director Meera Menon and the writers handle their familiar big-finance/bad-behavior milieu smartly and credibly, but it’s their three Wall Street honey bees (yes, lawyer Samantha included)—more stinging than sweet—who enliven this nest. The film is also beautifully shot (those nocturnal aerial shots of a glittering Manhattan never tire) and convincingly designed.

Equity does lack heart but entertainingly invokes the mindset that has turned this democracy into a plutocracy. And it has enough conscience so that viewers won’t go “Gekko” over the me-first/screw-you high-stakes players here.

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