The world of investment banking and the intrigue that surrounds an initial public offering have provided fodder for a number of recent movies. But Equity is the first to be directed by a woman, to be written by women and to place three actresses in the principal roles. So Equity, in this case, has a double meaning.
At its center is Anna Gunn, as an investment banker who was once the hottest talent on Wall Street, but her luster is wearing thin. She is getting a reputation for being difficult to work with, and the movie doesn’t have to say or even imply what we immediately understand, that were she a man she would not be considered difficult at all, but open and direct. Someone who tells it like it is.
Naomi (Gunn) loves money, the sense of protection it provides and the status it brings. Feeling in need of a career boost, she pursues an internet security company, in the hope of being assigned to guide its IPO.
In the meantime, she has three people in her life that require careful watching: an old school friend, who is also a federal investigator (Alysia Reiner); her personal assistant (Sarah Megan Thomas), who is a little too good to be true; and a charming, suave new lover (James Purefoy), who seems as reliable as a busted clock.
Gunn brings an interesting awareness to the role. She plays a woman in her mid-40s, trying to survive in a business in which everyone, except the big bosses, is in their 20s or 30s. She conveys a quality of dislocation and unease, like someone trying to learn the latest dance.
At the same time, she brings an undercurrent of impatience with it all, so that it’s easy to believe that she’d rub everybody the wrong way.
For those unfamiliar with high finance, Equity provides a chance to see how things are done. For example, I always thought that an initial public offering was a simple matter, like pressing a button or putting up a “for sale” sign. In fact, the process is complicated, with a banker like Naomi and a team of underlings working to contact investors, gain commitments and set an opening price.
The movie shows that there are possibilities for gaming the system at virtually every stage. The federal regulations supposedly guarding against corruption are hard to enforce and crimes are hard to prove. Yet these regulations are so pervasive that they are a presence hanging over what might otherwise be normal social contacts. There are things Naomi can’t tell a friend and can’t tell a boyfriend. As such, Equity becomes a portrait of a way of life, which, at least from the outside, seems cold and unattractive.
Gunn is very good at suggesting the burdens of this life, while Reiner, as the federal agent, exudes the sheer joy (mixed with moral outrage) of being an investigator. Reiner co-wrote the story and gave herself a good part, and so did Thomas, who also co-wrote the story. Normally, Reiner and Thomas might not have been cast together — they look somewhat alike — but the movie benefits from their deep understanding of the roles.
In the end, what makes Equity an intelligent and honest movie keeps it from being a total crowd-pleaser. It doesn’t go for flashy drama, and the ending is more whimper than bang.
But there’s the sense here of something authentic, and unless you’re already in the business, you’ll probably learn something.
Exclusive: Angelika Dallas; Angelika Plano; opens Aug. 26 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
Director: Meera Menon
Cast: Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Alysia Reiner
Rated: R (strong language throughout)
Running time: 100 min.