Director: Meera Menon
Stars: Anna Gunn, Sarah Megan Thomas,Alysia Reiner
3 (out of 5) Globes
It won’t be hard to write that gender studies grad school paper on “Equity,” a smart if moderately silly thriller set in the world of business. Its points are highlighted and in bold; all that’s missing is “Pop-Up Video” bubbles that read things like, “Powerful women have to hide their pregnancies if they want to keep their jobs.” Female characters discover that male clients expect them to flirt, or possibly more. If they had past disasters, it’s harder for them to climb up from under than had they been men. These days sexism has evolved to the point that business bros are no longer openly misogynistic. But it’s still everywhere.
For all its sharp insights, though, “Equity” isn’t simply rah-rah feminist. It finds women trying their hand at being as ruthless as men. Because they lack a Y chromosome, they just have to fight harder. But the most committed ones prove just as capable of being evil. They even wind up policing each other, doing the same sexist things men would do, provided it serves their interests. Girl power, we guess!
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The most cunning of them even baldly paraphrases Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is good” speech. “I like money,” crows Anna Gunn’s Naomi Bishop, the cucumber cool senior investment banker at a top firm. Her latest gig involves handling a Facebook-y social media platform, whose stocks are soon to go public. The presence of a ruffled, sarcastic Mark Zuckerberg type (Samuel Roukin) isn’t the only similarity with the new “Jason Bourne.” It, too, is fixated on security firms and name-drops Edward Snowden. But even without a single bout of fisticuffs, “Equity” is the better nerve-jangler, calmly and methodically laying out a tangled plot that slowly, confidently, clinically comes together.
Turns out there are many who want Naomi’s latest venture to fail. In dim bars and high-end lounges, nipping on Macallan 18, men scheme behind the scenes to undo her hard work, colluding with others to bring her client down before it goes live. All the while, a shady federal agent, Samantha (Alysia Reiner), snoops around, trying to bust Naomi and colleagues for corruption.
Despite the early “Wall Street” homage, this isn’t “Wall Street.” There are no good guys, no green Charlie Sheen type to learn a lesson. The fresh fish at Naomi’s firm — Sarah Megan Thomas’ Erin, her perky yet stressed-out assistant — becomes tainted, not saved. It presents a world of back-stabbing and fractured relationships, where no one is to be trusted. Not even Naomi’s off-on sex buddy, smarmy hedge fund deal-maker Michael (a delightfully disreputable James Purefoy), is on the level. Then there’s Naomi’s aforementioned speech, which actually repurposes the “Greed is good” monologue so that it’s both bone-chilling and genuinely empowering.
Much as “Equity” makes sure we don’t miss its biggest points — there’s even a Jenga game used as a metaphor for looming collapse — it’s remarkably efficient, free of fat, as tough and steely as Naomi herself. It calmly snakes through its byzantine plot then lets the lid blow off once the payoff arrives. At that point Gunn, formerly coiled and restrained, gets to indulge in Skyler White-esque shout-fests. She even tears into an instant intentional camp classic outburst over the number of chocolate chips in a cookie — the most snicker-inducing use of the word “motherf—ker” since “Zero Dark Thirty.” (On a more modest note, Gunn murders the weary one-liner, “Your concern is truly almost authentic.”) No matter its hairpin turns and epic cynicism, it’s a deep stew in a world where no one’s on the level — one so miserable and inhuman that its last-second joke of an ending barely makes sense. It makes you want to run screaming into a far-off place and start an onion farm or something.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge