“Wall Street is the world’s biggest casino” – Edward O. Thorp
Movies about Wall Street have littered the landscape in the wake of the crash of financial markets in 2009. The Wolf of Wall Street, Money Monster, The Big Short and Arbitrage are just a few of the recent ones. The common theme in all of them is how men running amok have hurt many investors while making gigantic profits for the fortunate few.
Equity is different in several ways. First, it is a look at the lives of three women trying to move up in the world of high finance, two inside an investment bank and one who is an assistant United States attorney. She’s just moved out of the prosecuting of drug dealers and into the world of white-collar crime. Aside from being female-centric, Equity is also a terrific primer on the world of the Initial Public Offering (IPO) and what goes on behind the scenes before a company goes public.
Anna Gunn is “Naomi Bishop” and she’s a very senior investment banker at a big firm. Senior enough to consider herself in the running to replace her boss when he leaves in the near future. She’s had a stellar career until her last IPO, Dynacorp ran into problems. Now she has a chance to shine with an IPO for an internet security company, Cachet. Cachet’s CEO, “Ed” (Samuel Roukin) likes her pitch but seems more interested in Naomi’s protege, “Erin Manning” (Sarah Megan Thomas). Erin feels she is undervalued, under-compensated and is under the pressure of having just become pregnant.
Naomi’s boyfriend, “Michael Connor” (James Purefoy) works on the other “side” of the investment bank. His clients aren’t companies looking to go public; they are hedge fund managers and other industrial investors looking to profit from those IPOs. The “Chinese Wall” is supposed to prevent people like Naomi and Michael from sharing information that would give an unfair advantage to his clients. Naomi’s old friend “Samantha” (Alysia Reiner) is the aforementioned assistant U.S. attorney and she’s looking into one of Michael’s clients. She wants to rekindle her relationship with Naomi in order to learn what Michael might have been up to. As in any IPO, there is a potential problem that could cause the stock’s opening price on Wall Street to fall well below the expectations of the company going public. If that happens, it will be a very serious black mark on Naomi’s resume and she will do almost anything to prevent that from occurring.
Director Meera Menon manages to take some complex concepts and present them in a way that allows even those who aren’t educated in matters of high finance to see what’s going on. The film makes it clear that even in this day and age, women are still taken at face value in that world; evidenced by a joke Naomi tells about how her choice of dress might have caused a business deal to tank. The three women central to this film are all powerful, intelligent and driven and seeing positive portrayals of such women is a welcome change. If there is a problem with Equity it is that almost every single male character is flawed in more than just a minor way. Then again since this is the world of Wall Street, perhaps this is simply realism in the experiences of the writers and people who advised them. There are ethical lapses on both sides of the gender aisle in this film, but those of the men are far more egregious than those of the women.
The three lead actresses are terrific. The fact that Sarah Megan Thomas co-wrote the script may be part of the reason it seemed she was born for the role of Erin. Anna Gunn proved her chops on “Breaking Bad” and they are on full display in this powerful performance. Equity is worth more than one viewing.