Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 28, 2016 3:11 pm 
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Tough dames on Wall Street

In Equity Meera Menon delivers a Wall Street thriller featuring the ladies. It's a drama of cheating, deception, spying, and intense competition around a closely watched Silicon Valley IPO launch. The key three figures, a banking executive staging the IPO (Anna Gunn), her vice president (Sarah Megan Thomas), and a government compliance officer recently transferred from narcotics (Alysia Reiner) zealously hunting for malfeasance, are all female. They are as tough, obsessed, and free with the F-word as the guys. But this time we see how gender can alter financial-world power equations. It's very interesting, very technical (it doesn't explain terms as The Big Short does), and on the humorless side. It's a bit below A-list, though the Guardian's US guy Jordan Hoffman wrote "if there’s any justice Equity will propel Anna Gunn to A-list status." A nice thought, but the leads here come from TV, and the storytelling recalls an episode from a excellent series like "The Good Wife," not a bad thing, though without quite the depth of characterization such a series affords.

As Naomi, Gunn, from "Breaking Bad," is formidable. Her nemesis turns out to be her hedge funder long time lover Michael Connor, English-born James Purefoy (also with a lot of TV in his resume), who actually tries to break into her cell phone when they're sleeping together - but everybody is trawling for everybody else's secrets. Naomi's chief ally is her VP Erin (Thomas). But the competitiveness is too thick on the ground for any collegiality. Randall (Lee Tergesen), the boss of Naomi's equity firm, oozing privilege and attitude, is retiring, and Naomi is too busy pushing to get his job, and fighting off the fact that her last IPO didn't perform so well, to help Erin much with a promotion. The film begins with a declaration by Naomi that she loves money. And the end Sam (Reiner), the Justice Department investigator, opting to go corporate, is seen making the same declaration. Not greed, but not high ideals. And there's nothing in this story for the 99%.

There's so much truth and technical accuracy one wishes this film had some of the oomph of its competitors - the historical significance and tragicomic dimensions of Chandor's Margin Call; the sprightly humor of The Big Short; the iconic crudity of the Michael Douglas Wall Street movies; the joyous excess of The Wolf of Wall Street. What Equity does have is a technical focus. Hence the importance here of the IPO folks, led by tall hoody-wearing techie CEO asshole Ed (Samuel Roukin), agreeing with the pre-launch share valuation, and the film's almost Power Point illustration of how investors can make a fortune on an ultimately successful launch's initial bad performance.

The film is also very post-Snowden current. The IPO is a firm called Cachet, a neat play on caché. Playing to security paranoia, it's (purportedly anyway) an ultra-hack-free system that's also a social media portal, as Ed keeps trumpeting, rather than merely a social media portal that claims to be ultra-secure. Details on how that works out are, perhaps happily, missing. The only trouble with this whole idea is the fragility of security as a selling-point in today's cyber-world, as Alex Gibney's new malware worm thriller-documentary Zero Days makes so very clear. These folks aren't even safe from each other. It's a renegade young security expert (also female), Marin (Sophie von Haselberg, more talked about than seen), the McGuffin-character who leaves Cachet and talks about its potential penetrability, thus becoming the hole in the dike sought after by all, some to quash, others to exploit. The ladies and men use sex mainly to gain information; they're all Mata Haris. Likewise for old school ties. Sam tries to use the fact that they went to school together to get information out of Naomi. She's quickly rebuffed. Erin's apparent sex appeal for Ed (she's slimmer and younger than Naomi) momentarily seems a wedge. One must say all this is very smart and fun. It would just be nice if it got a little sexier, funnier, or crazier once in a while. There would have been room for that if it had tamped down some of its busy subplots a bit.

Equity, 110 mins., was snapped up by Sony Pictures Classics before it even debuted at Sundance, then showed at five other mostly US festivals. Its US theatrical debut is 29 July 2016. SF Bay Area 12 August.

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