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August 12, 2016

Film Review: 'Equity' pitches its own take on 'greed is good' in new Wall Street thriller

The one in which Anna Gunn guns for a promotion

Film Reviews
Anna Gunn Broad Street Pictures/Sony

Anna Gunn, center, plays Wall Street power-player Naomi Bishop in the female-driven Wall Street thriller, 'Equity.'

There's a sharp, tense, grab-you-by-the-balls moment early on in "Equity," an expressly female-driven Wall Street film debuting Aug. 12 at the Ritz. Investment banker Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn) is sitting among a circle of women discussing their careers in New York. We, the audience — not to mention the characters in the scene — are all but primed for Bishop to embark on some eloquent soliloquy about the meaning of life, of juggling babies and briefcases, etc. Instead? She boils her life's ambition down to three words that tell you everything you need to know about what comes next. 

"I like money."

With that, "Equity" smartly establishes itself as an equally greedy addition to the male-dominated lineup of Wall Street films, establishing from the get-go that this is not a movie about work-life balance (not really) or one that will pretend women can't also be wolves. Nor does it deny its female characters their share of human flaws and dimensions. This is a story about money and the women who want it just as much as the men do.

In 'Equity,' nobody's perfect. There's Bishop's backstabbing assistant Erin (played by Bucks County native Sarah Megan Thomas), who, feeling unappreciated and trapped on a work ladder that's missing a few rungs, tries to take down her boss. There's Bishop's two-faced Wall Street playmate Michael (James Purefoy), a man not only willing to play her like a fiddle but snap it when he's done. And there's her college pal Sam (Alysia Reiner, of "Orange is the New Black"), an investigator who enters the realm of white-collar crime and, in the process, becomes the sell-out she tried so desperately not to be. 

Broad Street Pictures/Sony

Alysia Reiner plays Sam, an investigator of white-collar crime who, as the story unfolds, began to question whether it's actually shameful to want money.

The main attraction here, without question, is Bishop herself, who, played convincingly by Gunn, dominates the screen as effortlessly as she does the board room. So obsessed with leveraging a new IPO launch into a promotion, she reaches points of paranoia (many of which are justified) that cause her to become deliciously unhinged as the film plays out — peaking when she unleashes full-throated fury on a colleague who, eating a chocolate chip cookie of his own, is asked to fetch one for her and returns with one that underwhelms with its chip count ("Three f***ing chips!?"). (Underneath the comedy, is the hard truth; equality for women in the workplace is often more gesture than reality.)

What's genuinely impressive about "Equity" is that it serves up a very digestible 100 minutes that are swift and entertaining, but — for the most part — don't sacrifice depth. That said, it does embark on some subplots that never feel fully realized. Perhaps those will be addressed if and when the film is turned into a TV series.

Ultimately, "Equity" is a well-crafted film that asks its viewers to consider some harsh realities about how women are treated in the workforce, without ever feeling too heavy-handed. But it does, in its parting words, strongly ask you to contemplate not just whether greed is good, but whether you'd judge Gordon Gekko differently if his first name had been Gabby.

The Good: An A-plus performance from Anna Gunn, three-dimensional characters who don't play too heavily on Wall Street archetypes, doesn't overstay its welcome, makes you really want to go out and make seven figures.

The Bad: Tries to tackle too much, leaving a few questions lingering. 

Recommended For: Fans of Wall Street thrillers — duh. Also, anyone who really wants to like Wall Street thrillers but tends to find them too complicated. And women on Wall Street. Because, obviously.

Available: In theaters now at the Ritz.