Over the years, we've gotten plenty of films about the cutthroat world of high finance, but from "Wall Street" to "The Big Short," they're all typically male-centric affairs. The fact that "Equity" is the practically unheard of financial thriller told from the female perspective immediately distinguishes itself from the pack. Filled with great performances -- especially from "Breaking Bad" star Anna Gunn -- the film is a sharp look at women in the workplace, even when its story doesn't quite live up to the complicated, flawed characters that fill it.
Gunn plays big shot investment banker Naomi Bishop. Specializing in shepherding tech industry startups through their initial public offering, she's been tasked with overseeing the IPO launch of a hot new social media company that promises the kind of privacy Facebook can't. Passed over for promotion and coming off a botched public offering for which she was made the scapegoat by her condescending boss, there's extra pressure for Naomi to prove herself this time around. Nevermind that she's already spent years proving herself in her rise to the top.
Everyone in Naomi's life has their own agenda, from her ambitious VP, Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas), to her boyfriend, Michael (James Purefoy), and even Samantha (Alysia Reiner), an old college friend who's now a prosecutor with the US Attorney's office specializing in white collar crime, and who shows up to reconnect with Naomi right when she's at her most vulnerable.
Based on the genre we're dealing with, we expect Naomi to engage in some shady practices. But she conducts herself professionally -- ambitious and sometimes ruthless, but never criminally. Similarly, director Meera Menon and screenwriter Amy Fox consistently upend our expectations: we assume Erin will prove herself to be that expected backstabbing protege, while Samantha plays the honorable dispenser of justice. But each character is allowed to be more complicated than that.
The plot itself is a little by-the-numbers, concerning the expected manipulations and betrayal, and the film is always more interesting when it's focused on the details of how these three women navigate what is largely still a man's world. When Naomi faces criticisms that she's not "likeable" enough, the film trusts us to understand that that particular condemnation isn't something any of her male colleagues ever have to worry about. Or when Erin, who early on learns that she's pregnant, sneaks off to the bathroom to replace her martini with water in order to mingle with the boys when they go out for post-work drinks.
"Equity" is directed, written, produced, and financed by women. That it's filled with women behind and in front of the camera is something that shouldn't be as novel as it is, but unfortunately, that's not the world we (or the characters in this film) live in. But slowly and surely, that's bound to change.