Early on in “Equity,” investment banker Naomi Bishop appears on a panel at a college alumni event and is asked what gets her up in the morning.
“I like money — like knowing I have it. … It’s OK to do it for ourselves — for how it makes us feel. Secure, yeah. Powerful, absolutely… Don’t let money be a dirty word.”
Take that, Gordon Gekko.
Also on the panel is the banker’s former classmate, a federal prosecutor who has just been assigned to white-collar crime and is investigating Naomi’s firm, which is working on launching the initial public offering of a privacy startup.
The twist here is that all of the main characters — Naomi, her ambitious assistant and the prosecutor – are female and meaty, juicy roles at that. The crew is also predominantly female.
Naomi is played with ferocity by Anna Gunn, who is best known as Skyler White on “Breaking Bad.” Co-stars Alysia Reiner (Samantha) and Sarah Megan Thomas (Erin) wrote the story and are the film’s executive producers. This is director Meera Menon’s second film.
Gunn, Reiner and Thomas are intelligent, compelling actresses, but the backstory here may be more interesting than the film. “Equity” was partly financed by women on Wall Street, anxious to have their perspective portrayed. To get them to invest, the producers reportedly showed a sizzle reel of female characters in movies set in the world of finance, primarily wives or hookers.
Some plot points, such as the revolving door between banking and law enforcement, reflect the knowledge of the industry (the revolving door between banking and regulatory agencies). But other aspects just do not ring true – the prosecutor carrying paper files full of confidential data on the train and the CEO with nothing on his desk but a huge Jenga puzzle. And even a multiple Emmy winner cannot make a tirade about the number of chips in her chocolate chip cookie work. (Seriously.)
The IPO plotline surrounds Cachet, a privacy startup that makes social media more secure. With its web of prosecutors, investment bankers and venture capitalists, the plot brings to mind Showtime’s “Billions” or a ChumHum episode of “The Good Wife,” perhaps because Carrie Ann Preston, who played Elsbeth, has a small role here as well. The supporting cast is chock-full of terrific actors — Margaret Colin, Craig Bierko, James Naughton and Sophie von Haselberg (daughter of Bette Midler).
The plot sounds complex but is easy to follow, and could have benefited from a bit more intrigue and suspense. The good news is that we want to know more about these women, including Samantha’s wife who is very briefly shown, and rumor is that they have optioned the characters for a TV series.
“Equity” was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and it is gratifying to see a movie in which the women’s roles are more developed than the men’s.
Ironically, the film also illustrates that woman can be as ruthless as men, making their gender a kind of non-event, which might also be the point (like the “greatest female athlete” arguments).
Make no mistake, the unusual financing, including having Bloomberg as a sponsor, does not translate into more sympathetic characters.
In today’s climate, studios know that audiences will accept talking pets, aliens and superheroes battling for the survival of the planet, but certainly not heroic bankers, no matter what their gender.
2 ½ stars
Starring: Anna Gunn, Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas
Directed by: Meera Menon
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: R for language
The lowdown: An investment banker tries to work her way up the Wall Street ladder.