It’s not easy to make a movie about stock market deals cinematically compelling, but a few folks have made it work. Obviously, ‘The Big Short’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ did pretty well recently, along with ‘Wall Street’ and bits of ‘The Social Network’. However, for the most part, these movies can be pretty dry. Typically, they’re comprised of long dialogue scenes with actors crunching numbers and desperately trying to somehow make financial minutiae seem dramatically compelling. As the dull title suggests, ‘Equity’ unfortunately falls into the latter category.
It’s clear just from all the cinematic mimicry (some might claim rip-offery) in play that writer Amy Fox and director Meera Menon desperately hoped to match the big stock thrillers of the past, but in the end, this static war of words and numbers is little more than a pretender.
Anna Gunn from ‘Breaking Bad’ plays Naomi Bishop, a successful and cutthroat investment banker at a major firm. She’s determined to get her next deal right after her first failure and is chasing promotion in the process. She opens the film delivering a speech about how money and greed are good for women at a college alumni meeting where she reunites with an old roommate (Alysia Reiner) who also happens to be investigating white collar crime for the U.S .government. (Hmmm… will that come into play?)
Bishop’s newest acquisition is Cachet, a social media platform focused on digital security. What the service actually offers is never clear, but it’s apparently a big deal and is run by a hoodie-wearing techno bro (Samuel Roukin) who’s a major dink. Bishop’s protégé (Sarah Megan Thomas) is also desperate for promotion before her pregnancy is visible, so she’s willing to do a little manipulating. Throw in the fact that Bishop’s sorta boyfriend (James Purefoy) is a particularly corrupt stock goon who likes to sell information for profit, and we’re primed for a tale of backroom dealings and betrayals with a gender focus.
Buried within the film’s premise is the possibility of an intriguing drama. Proving that folks in the business world tend to be shady and greedy ain’t exactly new, but exploring how difficult it can be to navigate that minefield as a woman in a traditionally chauvinist field has some potential for originality. Unfortunately, none of that promise is ever satisfyingly delivered over the course of a convoluted and dull 100 minutes. The gender politics remain pretty surface level, discussed mostly without depth and limited primarily to sexual manipulation from both sides. That’s frustrating, but given how two-dimensional all these characters are and how didactically they speak their mind about economics, there was never much room for nuance.
It’s possible that ‘Equity’ maybe needed another draft or two at the script stage before the movie could fulfill its ambitions. Huge details seem to be ignored for no particular reason, like what exactly the software company that everyone is going gaga over actually offers. Characters are exclusively limited to stock types to make political points. The actors try their best to give something resembling life to their walking writing devices, but it’s a fool’s errand. Everyone is limited to either staring off angrily into the distance or warmly hugging their partners, who have no character beyond being spouses. It’s frustrating to watch ‘Equity’ slowly disintegrate into nothing. The premise promises so much that’s promptly ignored and the cast are all acting their asses off. They just don’t have much of a part to play, so their work can only register as overacting.
Worse still is the fact that director Menon seems to have told everyone involved to make the movie look and sound like ‘The Social Network’ rather than making a film of her own. All of the rigid compositions, blue color-timing, and pacing-through-editing from David Fincher’s millennial masterpiece show up like a Xerox copy, along with an embarrassing score that desperately tries to sound like Trent Reznor and consistently comes short.
It’s one thing for a movie to fail on its own terms, but it’s quite another for a film like ‘Equity’ to fail while desperately trying to be ‘The Social Network 2: Gender Finance Boogaloo’. That makes this thing painful to watch in the final disappointing stretch. You’ll wish that you could somehow hug the movie and tell it to be itself rather than copying others. But you can’t because… you know… it’s a movie, not a person. It’s not a particularly good movie either, despite some noble intentions and a good cast trying to make a dull script sing.