Equity may seem at first like an answer to a certain criticism films like The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short get, namely that films about big finance seem bereft of women. Anna Gunn of Breaking Bad and Deadwood stars as Naomi Bishop, a senior investment banker helping to launch a Silicon Valley company’s initial public offering after suffering a major career failure. This job throws her whole life out of balance. Not just her profession, but friendships and her romantic relationship as well. Equity’s success is in telling a story with major political and social implications, but by keeping the stakes human. It is the story of how personal and professional boundaries bleed over and are crossed. From there, the viewer is given the chance to ponder the greater meanings.
While Gunn stars, the film is an ensemble of fine character actors. Alysia Reiner of Orange is the New Black plays Samantha Ryan, a college friend of Naomi’s who is now a U.S. attorney who monitors Wall Street. Samantha’s story is a mirror of Naomi’s. While Naomi has a casual relationship with another man at her company (played by James Purefoy), Samantha has found domestic bliss with a wife and two adorable kids. From their respective places in the system, they start to be affected by a plot conducted by Purefoy’s characters and two hedge fund managers, played by Nate Corddry and the underrated and always welcome Craig Bierko. This conspiracy is never played as a great, evil scheme. Rather, it’s an example of friends trying to help another. The film lives in the space where moral and ethical compromises arise in the most personal way possible.
Gunn is accompanied in most scenes by Sarah Morgan Thomas playing Erin, a young co-worker of Naomi’s. She goes from being Naomi’s student to a competitor, in a story that explores how the challenges that women face in the workplace can turn women against each other. The scenes always feel true, with Gunn and Thomas both playing women who put up a cool exterior, with larger emotions playing underneath.
Screenwriter Amy Fox is also a playwright and indeed Equity is led by its writing in a manner that is more akin to theatre than cinema. The film takes place almost entirely within offices, apartments, and restaurants. The action is all in conversation, with the actors instilling character work into dialogue that allows room for very deliberate spaces. Director Meera Menon does a fantastic job of instilling all locations with the sleek surfaces and dark lightning that establish a distinct feel of a high-class and pristine world. There are some flourishes such as a few overhead shots that appear at certain moments but the big victory of Menon and editor Andrew Hafitz is that Equity moves with a rhythm that keeps the film engaging while giving all the scenes and the acting therein plenty of room to breathe.
That breathing room is missed in the final moments of the film. One is left wishing there was just a little more of Gunn after where the film takes her. Reiner also deserved a little more. Her character takes a very interesting turn, but one that needs more development to truly land. Still, Equity is a fine example of how important issues are best framed in the most personal ways possible.