“All About Equity” might be a better title for Meera Menon’s film, which blends the financial shenanigans of “Wall Street” with observations about the glass ceiling that exists there, and then adds to them a dollop of “All About Eve” as well. The result isn’t as sharp and biting as it might have been, but at least it touches, however imperfectly, on some very real and pressing contemporary issues about gender and a financial system that remains prone to manipulation despite the supposed lessons of 2008.
The sort-of heroine of the piece is Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn), an executive who specializes in acquiring the potentially lucrative rights for her New York investment bank to shepherd promising IPOs to market. Unhappily, her last such effort had ended badly, leading to suspicions that she might have lost her touch in calculating the value of the company involved, leading to a loss for the firm. She means to recoup her reputation by nabbing the deal to bring Cachet, a software firm specializing in insuring users’ privacy, to market. And with the help of her assistant Erin Manning (Sarah Megan Thomas), she manages to persuade Cachet’s arrogant owner Ed (Samuel Roukin) to give her the job—though the triumph is quickly made much less complete by a suggestion from a Cachet underling that there might be a flaw in the software that could leave the whole system open to hacking.
Unfortunately, Naomi’s a bit off her game: she’s just been informed that this isn’t her year for a promotion to head the department. And she passes a bit of similarly bad news to Erin, who’s justifiably concerned that the pregnancy she’s trying to conceal might have a serious impact t on her ability to hold onto her current job. She has another problem in her intimate relationship with Michael Connor (James Purefoy), a broker at the bank whose specialty is deals with hedge funds. What she doesn’t realize is that is the sort of shark who’s willing to pass along any insider information he can glean from her to his sleazy pal Benji Akers (Craig Bierko), a fund manager who can use it to manipulate opening trading on the Cachet IPO and make a bundle while hurting the bank’s bottom line. As if that weren’t enough, an old college friend of Naomi’s, Samantha Ryan (Alysia Reiner), who’s now an investigator for the US Attorney’s office, is busy scrutinizing practices at the bank, especially those involving Akers’ firm.
There are some snags in the film’s basic premise, especially in terms of the Cachet product, which sounds timely but (rather like the similar software recently bruited about in “Jason Bourne”) comes across as a facile sort of plot lynchpin. But the more serious problem with “Equity” is that Bishop, for all the talk about her expertise, doesn’t prove to be an especially smart person. She allows herself to be manipulated by Connor, who, as played by Purefoy, appears to be precisely the kind of cad it would be easy for an experienced woman to see through. She doesn’t take seriously enough the threat to the IPO posed by the staffer’s revelations. And she seems especially obtuse in failing to recognize the machinations of Manning, in spite of the fact that she realizes Erin is pregnant.
On the other hand, “Equity” strikes a chord in the characters of Manning, who shows herself more ambitious than loyal, and Ryan, who’s portrayed as woman willing to use unorthodox means to get the information she needs—but also as much interested in advancement as anyone else. In the end the film is an exercise that’s as cynical about the notion of sisters who help one another as a result of the inequities they all face as it is about the corruption that’s ingrained in the financial system. The way Naomi, Erin and Samantha treat one another is no less dispiriting than the fate of Connor and Akers.
All of this is packaged reasonably well. The performances are good down the line, even if none of the actors can invest much personality into characters that are more pieces being moved around a chess board than living, breathing individuals. Menon’s direction is more workmanlike than inspired, and the technical side of the film is on a similar level, though production designer Diane Lederman gets the look of boardrooms and apartments right, cinematographer Eric Lin shoots them well enough, and Andrew Hafitz’s editing keeps the plot convolutions reasonably clear.
Ultimately, though, you might be a bit frustrated that “Equity” isn’t better than it is. There’s a scene in it when Naomi, watching things go south as the Cachet IPO goes south, flies into a rage when a cookie she’s offered has so few chocolate chips in it. For her it’s a symbol of how unfairly, in her view, she’s always treated. You’re unlikely to react to the movie with similar vehemence, but you might well think it falls short of its potential.