Monday 16 July 2018

Movie Review: Equity (2016)

A drama about greed, ambition and ethics set in the financial sector, Equity is a refreshing female perspective on a cut-throat world.

In New York City, Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn) is a senior executive at an investment bank specializing in initial public offerings (IPOs). Her reputation takes a hit when her latest stock launch proves undervalued. Naomi is in a relationship with Michael Connor (James Purefoy), a senior broker at the same bank, who is always on the lookout for insider tips to feed to shady hedge fund managers.

Naomi's key assistant on the IPO files is Erin Manning (Sarah Megan Thomas) who is getting increasingly frustrated about a lack of recognition. Meanwhile, Naomi's former classmate Samantha Ryan (Alysia Reiner) works as a public attorney investigating insider trading. Naomi's next big file is the public launch of tech firm Cachet, but plenty of personal agendas will conspire against her.

Directed by Meera Menon with a script by Amy Fox, Equity is surprisingly effective for a relatively low-budget production with no big screen star names. Although the film often looks like a slick television pilot episode with basic production values and minimal location shooting, Menon builds up a decent head of steam in the story of backstabbing, egotism and avarice.

The film almost passes as a female version of Wall Street, and Fox even conjures up an equivalent to Gordon Gekko's Greed speech:

Naomi: But I really do like money. I like knowing that I have it. [...] I am so glad that it's finally acceptable for women to talk about ambition openly. But don't let money be a dirty word. We can like that too.

But the women have more to deal with than just dollars and deals. Erin is pregnant, and almost certain that her career, already stalled, will go into reverse. Naomi's future trajectory is also in doubt, as her boss - a man of course - prepares to retire and she is deemed unfit to succeed him because of one botched deal. And Samantha is grappling with the choice of being relatively poor but ethical or potentially rich but on the same side of the fence as all the corrupt bankers she investigates. Nevertheless, she does not hesitate to seduce a clueless target with her feminine charms to extract information.

Equity's main weakness is in focussing too intently on the business machinations, particularly in the second half. Once the Cachet IPO takes centre stage, Equity rides a singular rail, and the private lives of the women are relegated to the deep background. The result is a brisk 100 minutes, but the characters are short-changed, despite solid work from Anna Gunn (best known for Breaking Bad), Sarah Megan Thomas and Alysia Reiner (Orange Is The New Black). In addition to playing lead roles, Reiner and Thomas also co-produced and conceived the story with Fox.

As Naomi's latest IPO hurtles to its chaotic conclusion with Erin and Samantha contributing to the whirlwind, Equity makes its most effective point: male or female, in the world of high-stakes finance looking out for number one is always rule number one.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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