Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sundance ’16: Equity

Remember Facebook’s over-hyped, under-performing IPO? Naomi Bishop certainly does. However, she is more haunted by the recent blockbuster IPO she was not able to land for her firm. She hopes to get back on track with the initial offering for Cachet, a vaguely sketched out internet privacy company. It’s so private, nobody really knows what is does. Regardless, it should be money in the bank for Bishop, but some of her closest colleagues are out to sabotage her in Meera Menon’s Equity, which screens during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

Bishop is under pressure from her dim-witted blue-blooded boss to generate revenue the way she used to or resign herself to career stagnation. Consequently, Bishop is in no position to help her under-compensated and increasingly resentful assistant, Erin Manning. She has fun hooking-up with Michael Connor, a hotshot in her firm’s trading division, but she is right not to trust him. He is about to bolt to a rival firm, so he is looking for inside information to hobble her IPO.

It is not clear whether it is good or bad timing, but Bishop happens to re-connect with Samantha, an old classmate now prosecuting securities crimes in the U.S. Attorney’s office, just as the Cachet IPO starts to turn sour on her. (Since she works for the government, she can’t even afford a surname.) Of course, it was no coincidence. Samantha was not so subtly digging for dirt on Bishop’s firm.

Absolutely everyone in Equity is rotten to some extent, which is actually refreshing. Screenwriter Amy Fox never tries to gin up phony moralistic outrage by cutting away to the widows and orphans who stand to be dispossessed due to the characters’ shenanigans. In Equity’s world, when you play with vipers, you are likely to get bitten. It’s as simple as that.

Anna Gunn really gives it her all as Bishop. She can go from earnest glass ceiling exhibit A to snarling office nightmare on the turn of a dime. She looks like she is a part of this world, though not necessarily comfortable within it. Co-producer Alysia Reiner avoids all the usual crusading prosecutor clichés as the smart but ethically nuanced Samantha. However, her co-producer Sarah Megan Thomas’s Manning is a rather blandly vanilla, which gets a bit problematic when her sharp elbows are supposed to come out. Frankly, the extent of Connor’s villainy seems shortsighted and arbitrary, but James Purefoy clearly enjoys his dastardliness, which counts for a lot.

Even though Menon and Fox would probably be delighted if Equity led to tighter securities regulations, it would be dashed difficult to legislate against the kind skulduggery on view here. The fact that it does not immediately lend itself to teachable moments and online petitions makes it one of the better thrillerish financial dramas of recent vintage. Recommended on balance, Equity screens again early this morning (1/30) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.