Meera Menon’s Equity is, in theory, a feminist take on a film like J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call (2011), a movie that tackles the corruptness of America’s financial institutions while also picking at glass ceilings and the inequality women feel in the corporate world. Unfortunately, Equity never quite works as either, existing as a fairly toothless thriller and a not-very-effective examination of gender inequality — thanks to its confused message and the inherent nature of its plot. This is a movie that wants you to believe that venture capitalists, bankers and investors have been corrupted by greed, but still wants you to feel sympathy for people who’ve chosen this for their life. Since the film doesn’t have the talent to make the latter happen, what’s left is a movie with no emotional center and no means of stirring up outrage. It’s a flaccid picture that’s watchable and little else.
The film follows Naomi (Anna Gunn), an investment banker who just saw a huge deal fall through (the first of her career) and is looking to redeem herself by handling the public offering of a new, secure and presumably unhackable social network. She’s competitive by nature, and her outlet is making money and gaining power — something she doesn’t shy away from, even though it means behaving in ways that are typically looked down on in women. She’s also looking for a promotion, but she has little room for error in her suddenly faltering career. Not helping things, unfortunately, is her boyfriend, Michael (James Purefoy), who’s involved in some shady insider trading deals and is secretly being investigated by the feds.
The main thrust of Equity is Naomi’s slowly disintegrating deal, which is being covertly torn apart by Michael, who’s on the take. This is where the “thriller” aspect of the film comes into play, as Michael’s duplicity slowly sinks Naomi’s deal while she struggles to keep it all in one piece. As a tract on the evils of greed (Michael’s machinations will certainly lose money or ruin the retirement funds of everyday investors), Equity doesn’t work, since it never manages to actually enrage you. This is mostly because of the film’s focus, Naomi. She’s just as greedy and cutthroat as anyone else in the film — she just loses. The film wants to evoke a measure of sympathy for her, but this is a difficult proposition since her only true motivation is money. Even with her bosses constantly screwing her over based on her gender (at least that’s how the film frames it, though what the film does show is a lack of competence), why should one feel sympathetic? There’s no real soul, nothing human about this character, nothing relatable to really latch onto.
There is a universe where Equity works, but it’s not this one, mostly because of the cast the film is saddled with. It’s a lot of supporting actors trying to carry a film that needs at least one strong central performance. Gunn is perfectly fine as Naomi, but the meatier moments come across as goofy. The script doesn’t help, since what she’s given is a short rant about chocolate chip cookies and the opportunity to knock over a Jenga tower, moments that feel like they were concocted by a poor man’s David Mamet. Gunn doesn’t have the range to pull these scenes together. In her defense, at these points near the end of the film, Equity had already slowly unraveled. Rated R for language throughout.
Opens August 26 at Carolina Cinemark.