‘Equity’ Tells a Story of Women in High Finance

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – The key moment in “Equity” is early in the film. The main character was asked at a seminar why she got into high level finance. She paused for a second, and said “money.” The gals can be just as greedy as the guys, and their stakes in that greed can be just as exploitable.

But this isn’t about greed as much as the madness of financial pursuit. It is portrayed as an addictive high, hard to let go of no matter how much has been added to the bank account. And there are always rivals, and at that level they’ll stop at nothing to get advantage. This is a human story created by women, and not so much a cautionary tale but a lesson in the status quo. The pacing of this story is deliberate, to a fault, yet the humanity is true. There is no evolution in competition, only the squashing of the opponent.

Naomi (Anna Gunn) is a very successful financial guru, whose specialty is taking private companies to their Initial Public Offering (IPO), and making sure their stock price generates big money. She is proud of her position, and often clashes with the volatile head of her firm, Randall (Lee Tergesen). In this business, you’re only as good as the last barrel of money you’ve generated.

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Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas, left) and Naomi (Anna Gunn) Navigate Finance in ‘Equity’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

There is a secret legal investigation going on regarding Naomi and the firm, and it is headed by Samantha (Alysia Reiner), who uses unusual techniques – including her own sexuality – to get vital information. As a important IPO gets closer, the heat is on Naomi, one of her associates Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas) and the people around them, including Naomi’s lover Michael (James Purefoy).

There are complex issues of trust, sisterhood and women-as-life-givers in the film, within the a female point of view (the story was by the actor portraying Erin, Sarah Megan Thomas, and it was directed by Meera Menon). The cool portrayal of Anna Gunn as Naomi coincides with the notion of a competitive environment dominated by men, akin to the old adage about dancer Ginger Rogers…”she has to do everything Fred Astaire does, but backwards and in high heels.” The film does a good job of highlighting those challenges, and also indicating that human nature doesn’t necessarily have a gender.

Besides Naomi, the story also emphasizes two satellite characters around her star shine, the investigator Samantha and the associate Erin. Alysia Reiner as Samantha has a very distinct look, and uses it within her character. She goes undercover opposite to who she really is, and the scene comments on both the many lives that women must navigate, and the power of attractiveness that they know certain men cannot resist. Sarah Megan Thomas is one of the more surprising characters as Erin, who seizes an opportunity when she sees it, but also has a motivation she didn’t expect.

Anna Gunn was interesting casting as the protagonist Naomi, and makes character choices that both work and don’t work. The coolness of her character is a rift on “ice queen” stereotype, which was a natural direction to go in with the woman in high finance themes, but also seemed dry in practice. But she is also effective when she drops the mask, and has a past that makes the women behind that mask all the more vulnerable.

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Naomi Confronts Randall (Lee Tergesen) in ‘Equity’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

The film tells its story deliberately, which causes it to drag at times. And there is an inevitability to the endgame, even though Naomi is nothing but a successful professional. Yet that is the business, and if you don’t get caught with gaming the financial system, you’ll probably be fired if you don’t own the gold. We all just useful to a point, until an owner either can’t wring any more money out of us or feels threatened. Luckily, none of those owners can escape death, so I guess in the end we’re all even.

The very positive advantage of living in the now is the emergence, in the last couple generations, of women in all fields of business and professions. It levels the field of life more, and gives a nurtured point of view that is just different, which benefits all of us. Somebody who dances backwards and in high heels, I really want to know how that’s done.

“Equity” continued its limited release in Chicago on August 12th. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner, Lee Tergesen and Nate Corddry. Screenplay by Amy Fox. Story by Sarah Megan Thomas and Alysia Reiner. Directed by Meera Menon. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2016 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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