Saturday, 28 January 2017

Equity


Let’s think about all the films we’ve had about finance and banking. From 1987’s Wall Street up to 2015’s The Big Short, there has always been a cinematic interest in the fast-moving world of money. But 2016 brought us something fresh and different in this exhausted and repetitive genre. Equity, directed by Meera Menon, is the first female-led banking film. Yes, it has taken until now to show us the ladies of finance. Forget the Wolves, Equity is the Women of Wall Street - and it is easily one of the most underrated films of the year.


Naomi Bishop (Breaking Bad’s ball-busting Anna Gunn) is a senior investment banker who deals with IPOs, hired to handle the imminent launch of Cachet – a privacy-based social media platform. Unbeknownst to Naomi, her old friend Samantha (Alysia Reiner) has become a ‘white collar crime’ investigator and is working to bring down Naomi’s shifty hedge fund banker boyfriend Michael (the always brilliant James Purefoy) while Naomi’s pregnant and ambitious VP Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas) is willing to do just about anything to get the promotion she feels she is owed. All these characters’ lives become intertwined in a web of corruption and scandal over a surprisingly tense and engrossing 90 minutes.

Some of the marketing made Equity’s female-centric narrative feel like a gimmick, with press materials proudly starting the synopsis with “Equity is a world first”, being the first “female-driven banking film”. While this is arguably an important part of the film, it never feels heavy handed. The film opens with Naomi at a successful women seminar, talking about how refreshing and important it is that women can now openly discuss their ambition and that money “is no longer a dirty word” for them, and the film ends with a similar sentiment – but the lioness's’ share of the narrative is so confident and expertly delivered that, quite rightly, the gender becomes irrelevant. These are extremely strong female characters and they shit all over the Bechdel test – a test that asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. They very rarely talk about men (there are only two men of note in the story), and even then it’s purely for business purposes.

A lesser filmmaker would have made this into a preachy feminist romp but director Meera Menon makes Equity a very strong and stylish finance film that could easily stand among the best the genre has to offer. It may lack the star power of some of the best, but it has a strong story and great characters – and that’s all you need sometimes. The narrative is captivating, the entire cast are superb (except for a rather wooden Samuel Roukin as Cachet’s young inventor), the cinematography is beautifully cold and the score is a stunningly bleak compliment to the visuals.

Equity is one of those great films that suffers for multiple reasons – none of which are the film itself. Firstly, the film’s release was silent and snuck by with almost no fanfare. This is never a good start for a film that relies pretty heavily on strong marketing; finance films unfortunately don’t sell themselves. They need a little push. And as is the problem with most finance films, it is a little too smart for the masses – there are no big stand-out scenes and certainly no action. This is a dialogue heavy piece that expects the viewer to have a basic grasp of banking and finance. Don’t expect to be spoon fed what everything means – if you can’t keep up, you’ll get left behind. 


If you want an intelligent slow-burning story with great characters, Equity is worth investing your time in. If you’re looking for explosions, car chases, gun fights – or if you’re a raging sexist – you should probably look elsewhere. You will lose interest with this one. Ah, banking puns. I knew I couldn’t resist them for long.


Equity is a surprisingly good little film, and could easily stand among the finest finance films. 

★★★★☆


Sam Love


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