Weaving in and out of the multiple storylines of Amy Fox’s intricate screenplay, director Meera Menon paces Equity with a sure hand, juggling the different threads efficiently and confidently. It’s all so involving in the moment that only afterward do some of the screenplay’s faults begin to register. Fox is so insistent on emphasizing the feminist aspects of this tale that she pushes heavy-handed metaphors a bit too hard: senior investment banker Naomi Bishop’s (Anna Gunn) boxing hobby; the Jenga tower that her boss, Randall (Lee Tergesen), frequently plays with in his office; the stuffed hedgehog that hedge-fund broker Michael Connor (James Purefoy)—who’s also carrying on an affair with Naomi—presents as a gift to trader Benji Akers (Craig Bierko) in order to secretly pass on insider information. And some of Fox’s dialogue—a monologue Naomi delivers about her love of money and ambition, her outburst later on about getting less chocolate chips in a cookie than other men in the room—is eye-rollingly blatant in its attempt to rival some of the more famous lines in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.
Despite its faults, though, Equity ultimately succeeds in offering a fresh female-centered perspective on its genre material. Wall Street presented the financial world as a boy’s club built almost entirely on machismo, with women relegated to being mere trophies. By centering on the perspectives of Naomi and her second-in-command, Erin Manning (Sarah Megan Thomas), Menon’s film reveals an environment still riven with oppression and misogyny even as women have made progress toward breaking through the glass ceiling.
Women in the financial world, Equity suggests, are allowed to be tough, but not too tough, lest their usually male clients find them “off-putting,” which is the industry-wide impression Naomi is now saddled with after the failure of a previous IPO she handled. As for Erin, she finds herself forced to delicately respond to the romantic advances of Ed (Samuel Roukin), the tech entrepreneur who leads the hot new social network Cachet, in order to preserve the soundness of the IPO they’re about to launch, with Naomi slated to manage it. In Equity, women are still, to some extent, forced to use their sexual wiles to get what they want. This is also evident in the case of a former college friend of Naomi’s, Samantha (Alysia Reiner), now a Justice Department prosecutor going after Benji for possible insider trading who’s not above seducing men close to him in order to get the information she wants.
Though such gender-based minefields give the film sociological and psychological interests that distinguish it from the male-centered Wall Street, Equity, in the end, still finds its women engaging in exactly the kind of cutthroat manipulation and betrayal toward each other as the men in Stone’s film. Menon’s film fulfills the base-level expectations of this kind of financial thriller, with the requisite shifting alliances, double-dealing, and a climax that generates great tension from little more than pressure-cooker phone calls and computer screens. Thankfully, even if the film’s business intrigue doesn’t always escape a feeling of predictability, neither Menon nor Fox ever lose track of the characters and the complex motivations underlying their sometimes unsavory actions. Equity’s depiction of the finance world as a deeply corrupt institution is hardly new, but the filmmakers’ detailed, clear-eyed look at the challenges ambitious women face in this still male-dominated environment makes it feel near-revelatory.