Movie Review: Anna Gunn hides her cards well in “Equity”

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Every shaker and mover in the world of Wall Street captured in “Equity” is wary, guarded, downright paranoid you might say.

Each and every character has reason to be. Backs will be stabbed, and each knows this because in this world, you’re either stabbing or getting stabbed. There’s no in between.

The principals are all women throwing elbows in what we used to call “a man’s world,” struggling to survive, to endure the sexism and hostility, the different standards they’re being held to.

They’re learning that “It is OK to do it for ourselves,” says investment banker Naomi Bishop, played with a poker-faced fury by Anna Gunn of TV’s “Breaking Bad.” Naomi is a fortysomething IPO (Initial Public Offering) specialist having a rough patch. Her Jenga-playing boss is telling her “It’s not your year,” and she’s frantically treading water, hoping this next deal will allow her to prove him wrong.

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Naomi is single, having a romance with a colleague from the company’s hedge fund division (James Purefoy) and holding back her up-and-coming associate, Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas), who figures she’s overdue for a raise.

Erin has her own paranoia. In this ruthless business, she lives in mortal fear of a baby bump. With all the “meet for drinks” wheeling and dealing here, she knows somebody will find her out.

Then there’s Naomi’s old classmate, now a prosecutor with the SEC. Sam (Alysia Reiner) is hunting the folks looking for “an edge” in every IPO, that inside information that will allow them to manipulate a stock price and make a killing doing it.

The telling scene comes early — an alumni gathering where Naomi speaks to young women about to enter business and confesses “I like money…I like knowing that I have it.” She is happy — OK, happy-ish — that the day has arrived when women can allow themselves to be just as ambitious, just as greedy, just as cutthroat as their male counterparts.

But while Naomi may rebuff Erin’s salary demands and be quick to blame her if things go wrong, when the boss (Lee Tergesen) wants to know who she can let go in the latest round of layoffs, it is men who work for her she is ready to throw under the bus. Childless and single, she figures out Erin’s baby secret, but keeps it to herself.

The script, from a story by actresses Thomas and Reiner, is fiercely feminine and adept at juggling conflicting agendas and “needs.” It’s informative in showing the way one woman’s “edge” is, from the Security and Exchange Commission’s point of view, another’s lapse in compliance.

These are women willing to use their wiles, when all else fails. They’re smart and self-interested, and occasionally cunning. But this isn’t a soap opera, none of the cliched crying binges or catfights materialize, and the only melodramatic splashes come in an uptempo third act.

The cattiness comes from the other sex. The men are, almost to a one, scoundrels, save for the aged mentors on each side.

“Equity” coasts for too long on petty indignities Naomi must soldier through, and minor intrigues involving a new “invulnerable” social network, its youngish/sexist founder (Samuel Roukin) who seems underwhelmed at having to depend on a woman to take his company public.

But those third act fireworks pay off. And Gunn presents a clinic in close-to-the-vest card playing, a banker in a panic whose greatest fear is that she will let others see that fear and use it against her.

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MPAA Rating: R for language throughout

Cast: Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Sarah Megan ThomasAlysia Reiner
Credits: Directed by Meera Menon, script by Amy Fox. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Running time: 1:40

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