There are many films about the dealings on Wall Street, but most of them revolve around the experiences of men. Even in the best films on the subject, women are relegated to girlfriends or wives, the first victims of the men’s excess and often little more than caricatures. Reversing this trend appears high on the list of priorities with Meera Menon’s film ‘Equity’, which places three women at the centre of its story about power plays and corruption on Wall Street. It’s an important shift that needed to happen, and thankfully the film achieves this with a certain degree of success.
Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn, 'Sully', 'Breaking Bad') has long been a powerful and respected investment banker, but a series of missteps have put her reputation in danger. Determined to secure her place, she pursues spearheading the IPO of a new security software, supported by her ambitious assistant Erin Manning (Sarah Megan Thomas, 'Backwards'). However, her relationship with fellow banker Michael Connor (James Purefoy, 'The Following') leads her inadvertently into a web of hedge fund dealings, and the attention of federal investigator Samantha (Alysia Reiner, 'Sideways').
As befitting a film set on Wall Street, Amy Fox’s screenplay works a tricky succession of narrative twists and turns, most of which work effectively. Building the film around three female characters is a breath of fresh air, especially when each has been carefully considered and constructed as well as these. It’s hard to know who to root for in ‘Equity’, and that’s often a good thing, the lines of moral and immoral not so easily drawn for Naomi, Erin and Samantha. The world of banking is ruthless and unforgiving, and these three women often find themselves with their backs against the wall, forced to either downplay their femininity or use it as a weapon. It’s both exhilarating and devastating watching these powerful, ambitious women navigating this workplace and their place within it, having to compromise their own needs and relationships to be counted as equal to the men.
Unfortunately, the male characters don’t hold up anywhere near as well, pretty much all of them now fulfilling the roles of caricatures. It’s obviously a better imbalance than what we’re used to, but when so much work has been put into making the women so fascinating, it’s a pity that same specificity doesn’t apply to the men, making Fox’s screenplay often feel imbalanced. It also robs the film of its powerful and potent comments on sexism in a male-dominated workplace when the men are uniformly either awful or just plain dumb.
Fox’s screenplay is indebted to Menon’s slick and controlled direction, which keeps the rhythm and tension tuned just right. ‘Equity’ is a handsome film, but not without emotional resonance. It could easily have resembled a TV movie, but Menon adds a cinematic flair to it, capturing both the glamour of Wall Street and the grit of it, the unforgiving hours and its compromise to personal relationships. In many ways, her direction is one of the real highlights of this film, and she's definitely a director to keep an eye on in the future.
Because of the imbalance in the screenplay, the performances from the women are far stronger than the men, mostly because of the calibre of talent the parts attract. It’s terrific seeing Anna Gunn on the big screen, and her performance as Naomi is detailed, unforgiving and highly intelligent. She balances between being the protagonist and antagonist for so much of the film, but her convictions and moral compass are iron-proof, both to her advantage and disadvantage, and Gunn ensures that her humanity is always bubbling under the surface. That streak of humanity makes Sarah Megan Thomas’ performance as Erin quietly devastating, as she finds herself pitted against Naomi and forced into terrible decisions to get what she wants. She quickly goes from a face in the background to a driving force in the film. Holding the moral compass is Alysia Reiner as Samantha, who really gets to stretch her acting chops after her small part on ‘Orange is the New Black’, injecting the film with much-needed spirit and energy. The women wipe the floor with the men in this film, all uniformly forgettable and uninteresting. James Purefoy in particular just seems to be playing a cartoon villain, and it’s hard to get excited about his performance when he can’t spar well enough with the women.
It could easily have resembled a TV movie, but Menon adds a cinematic flair to it, capturing both the glamour of Wall Street and the grit of it.
‘Equity’ ends up being a far more interesting film than you see coming. Where Meera Menon and Amy Fox leave us is a moral quagmire, where you’re left without heroes or villains, forced to question which course of action you would take yourself. The final act is quietly bold and unexpected, leaving you a little haunted and appropriately uncomfortable. That’s probably a good description of ‘Equity’ as a whole - a clever little film that balances its flaws with flashes of intelligence and conviction. Best of all, it’s an intelligent film made by women about women, and that’s always something worth celebrating.