Equity (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

In Equity, nothing is ever straightforward, and the world is full of predators with smiling faces, so you’re never sure whom you can trust.


Americans have conflicting attitudes toward money. While we admire people who have or appear to have lots of it, we also love to say that money can’t buy happiness and the best things in life are free (both said mostly by people who already have plenty of money). The characters in Meera Menon’s Wall Street thriller Equity have no time for such equivocation, however: They like money and don’t mind saying so. They don’t even bother to couch their feelings in terms of the greater good, as Gordon Gekko so memorably did in Wall Street, but there’s one thing that’s even more surprising: they’re women.

The central characters in Equity are three women whose success in the world of high-stakes finance requires that they be expert code-switchers who can play the guys’ games with the best of them, but can also call on well-honed feminine behaviors when the occasion demands it. Naomi (Anna Gunn) is a middle-aged investment banker who has risen far despite the twin handicaps of being female and coming from an impoverished background. She takes her responsibilities seriously and always stays within the letter of the law, which makes her stand out in a world where the right nugget of confidential information could be worth millions or billions of dollars. Her subordinate, Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas), embodies a younger generation of ambitious women who expect to have it all, and are willing to do what it takes to make it happen. Samantha (Alysia Reiner), an old friend of Naomi’s, works for the Department of Justice investigating violations of financial laws; unlike Naomi and Erin, she has a home life, including a wife and two children.

The plot in Equity revolves around an IPO for a tech company headed by a long-haired, hoodie-wearing dude named Ed (Samuel Roukin). Naomi’s sometime bed partner (she defines their relationship as “I get what I need”), Michael (James Purefoy), also a banker and also involved in the IPO, is being investigated by Samantha, who tries to pump Naomi for information about him during a supposedly social visit. Meanwhile, a disgruntled employee from Ed’s company has some information that could harm the IPO and torpedo Naomi’s career, and she’s already a bit tense since her last big venture did not go well due to a client who didn’t like her dress, I kid you not.

The IPO is the ticking time bomb providing Equity’s forward momentum, but the best thing about the film is the way it puts you inside the insular world of those privileged to work at the highest levels of finance. In this world, you’re either in or you’re out, and there’s no more room for having an independent mind regarding apartment décor (the characters’ choices in minimalist furniture and predictably tasteful art are so uniform, they might as well be sharing the same flat) or food (if you you’re not eating the “it” dish of the moment, why bother?) than there is for deciding to do something as normal as having a baby (which in a woman signals less than total dedication to work). So money hasn’t bought these characters freedom, but the exact opposite, yet it’s what they want, because money signifies success.

Naomi, Erin, and Samantha live in a world that’s more Game of Thrones than Sex in the City. Yes, upscale consumer goods are everywhere and nobody’s shy about bed-hopping, but there’s nothing lighthearted about any of it. In Equity, nothing is ever straightforward, and the world is full of predators with smiling faces, so you’re never sure whom you can trust. Of course, characters are not risking life and limb with each social or professional interaction, but something that feels equally high stakes to them: career failure. To fail is to be cast out, and once you’ve bought into the system, there is no worse fate. | Sarah Boslaugh

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