“I like money,” investment banker Naomi Bishop declares in “Equity,” a slow-burn financial thriller that emerged from this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
The quote is an obvious echo of Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is good” from “Wall Street,” so it’s fair to view “Equity” — with its female director, screenwriter and protagonist — as a feminist answer to Oliver Stone’s 1987 hit starring Michael Douglas as an unscrupulous corporate raider.
However, Meera Menon’s indie feature, based on a script by Amy Fox, is more than that — and in some ways less. It’s a quieter, more nuanced peek behind the curtain of high finance.
Anna Gunn, best known as “Breaking Bad’s” Skyler White, stars as Naomi, a high-level executive specializing in shepherding startups through their all-important IPOs (initial public offerings). She lives in a world where women can enjoy far greater success than they could 30 years ago but still have to play by a different rulebook from the men.
Those rules are written on Gunn’s face — from ingratiating smiles to anxious grimaces — as she negotiates the corporate minefield. She has to be tough as nails without ever puncturing the egos of her male clients. She has to be charming but not too feminine, and God help her if she wears the wrong dress. But her biggest challenge is figuring out whom she can trust.
The plot, which involves insider-trading shenanigans not unlike those in “Wall Street,” is intriguing enough, but it’s secondary to the personal journeys Naomi and two supporting characters – one her protégé (Sarah Megan Thomas), the other a college chum (Alysia Reiner of “Orange Is the New Black”) who’s now a prosecutor investigating securities fraud. Each faces her own ethical dilemmas, which are resolved in an ending that is neither triumphant nor tragic but has the dramatic satisfaction of ringing true.
The male characters, including Naomi’s colleague-with-benefits (James Purefoy), are no less interesting or well-drawn, but they are all catalysts or antagonists in the women’s story. Which is certainly not a criticism, since the reverse is still true in 95 percent of movies these days.
If there is a criticism to be made, it’s that “Equity” is just a bit too low-key to fully draw the audience in. The chiaroscuro lighting and thrumming mood music build tension slowly and surely, but never enough to make you inch forward in your seat. Just a smidgen of Gordon Gekko bombast might kick things up a notch.
Then again, that’s probably missing the point entirely.
Sony Pictures Classics presents a film directed by Meera Menon and written by Amy Fox. Running time: 100 minutes. Rated R (for language throughout). Opens Friday at local theaters.