It’s hard being a woman in the workplace. There are issues like the pay gap and sexism so engrained within the minds of men that they don’t even realize that they’re unwilling to give a woman in the workplace an equal shot as other men. These issues are compounded by the fact that many men are simply unwilling to acknowledge that these biases even exist, let alone that they may have some factor within their own judgement. Women in the workplace are front and center in Equity, the new drama from director Meera Menon, a strikingly cynical and uneven piece of filmmaking about high-stakes finance and questionable ethics.
Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn) works for a powerful investment firm overseeing the initial public offerings (IPOs) of tech companies. Her last one fell through and has left a black stain on her otherwise stellar career in finance, but her boss (Lee Tergesen) is going to use this one error to prevent her from getting a promotion. Naomi is told they want a “rainmaker.” In her personal life, Naomi is having romantic evenings with Michael Connor (James Purefoy), a broker at the same firm. However, the two are forbidden from discussing the details of their work, as Naomi is privy to information that might give Michael an unfair advantage on the stock market. It’s a law they must follow to avoid charges of insider trading. Meanwhile, Naomi’s old college friend Samantha (Alysia Reiner) works for the Justice Department and is investigating Michael and his client Benji Akers (Craig Bierko), an extremely wealthy hedge fund manager.
At present, Naomi is overseeing the IPO of a tech company that specializes in privacy with the help of her loyal assistant Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas). But Erin has to worry about her career, and the fact that she’s just learned she is pregnant could undermine all of the professional progress she’s made. The IPO they are representing has its own set of problems that have been shielded from the public and investors by the company’s CEO (Samuel Roukin), who uses his professional leverage to pressure Erin into an affair. As all of this unfolds, Naomi is trying to maintain her integrity as her lover is sneaking around looking for any possible information that could help him stay in the good graces of Benji. All the while Samantha and Justice Department tries to hold any potential wrongdoers accountable, except this is America.
With Equity, Meera Menon does a good job in keeping all of the film’s moving parts working in service of the story, a number of characters and plot developments bouncing off each other before the film’s resoundingly cynical conclusion. Though Naomi is the front-and-center character, she’s really not the most interesting of the film’s varied women. Naomi is always in the right, a moral beacon in an immoral world; Anna Gunn does a magnificent job as that moral compass as she did Breaking Bad. But the tough decisions and the larger moral quandary at the center of Equity are Sarah Megan Thomas’s Erin and Alysia Reiner’s Samantha. (Megan Thomas is credited with the film’s story while Reiner is a producer.) These are characters existing a world where successful and competent women are pitted against each other for survival, while mediocre men skirt on by never to be held accountable.
If there’s one weak aspect to Equity, it’s the way the film’s male characters have the ability to come across as a cartoonish caricatures. Mind you, this isn’t me mounting a “Not all men” defense of the film’s unflattering characters representing the patriarchy, it’s just a simple reaction to the mustache-twirling villainy that these character embody without much depth. It simply boils down to a dramatic decision from director Menon and writers Sarah Megan Thomas and Amy Fox that highlights a gender dynamic (which should be highlighted) and not a character dynamic that undermines the film’s dramatic weight.
Equity is a good drama geared for adults that just lacks that extra edge to push it into another realm. Sometimes a bit too heavy-handed, Equity highlights a major societal issue that too often seems to be swept under the rug or flat out ignored, and punctuated with an ending of unabashed American cynicism. The glass ceiling hasn’t been shattered and white collar criminal operate with impunity. Movies and art are rarely the direct catalyst for change in large societal issues, but films like Equity make it hard to turn away and deny the double standard that our society imposes upon women in the workplace as well as the thin line between virtuous capitalist and criminal insider trading. It’s not always great or pretty, but Equity packs a socially conscious punch.
A socially conscious drama about financial crimes and the inherent sexism in the workplace, Equity nimbly balances its drama and social commentary in a sharp drama geared for adults.