‘Equity’: Climbing a ladder with too many broken rungs

Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn) wants the top job at her firm in "Equity," but must watch her back as she puts together a big deal. CREDIT: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“Equity,” a drama about female executives navigating sexism on Wall Street, has received lots of attention for being a movie written, directed, produced by and starring women. As an example of doing-it-for-ourselves solidarity and self reliance, it’s unquestionably inspiring: a bracing example of the old admonition to organize rather than sit around complaining.

The aspirations of “Equity” are so admirable that it’s all the more disappointing that the film itself is a letdown. Anna Gunn (“Breaking Bad”) plays Naomi Bishop, a gifted investment banker who has experienced a hiccup as the film opens. She’s eyeing the top job at her firm (a position continually referred to as “global head,” inviting images of the Big Giant Head from “3rd Rock From the Sun”), so her next deal needs to be a barn burner.

Unfortunately for Naomi, there are some obstacles on her path to a comeback and global domination: Her ambitious associate, Erin (“Equity” co-producer Sarah Megan Thomas), is angling for her own position within the firm; she must fight for the short attention span of her Jenga-playing boss; and the hedge fund dude from the office, whom she occasionally hooks up with, has his own questionable agenda.

The story and atmosphere of “Equity,” which was written by Amy Fox, will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the far more detailed and granular “Margin Call,” “Arbitrage,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “The Big Short.” The intra-gender dynamics recall “The Good Wife” or even “Nashville,” but without their character depth and rich writing. Directed by Meera Menon, “Equity” feels ham-handed and obvious, like a contrived attempt to make polemical points by couching them within schematic characters and plot points. Even the headline of an article Erin reads briefly on her phone – “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” – resembles an on-the-nose billboard.

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The biggest thing “Equity” has going for it is its knockout of a cast, which in addition to Gunn and Thomas includes Alysia Reiner as a wily prosecutor (she’s a producer as well) and Craig Bierko as a shark-eyed corporate raider. “Equity” isn’t perfect – far from it – but it’s an intriguing attempt at rebalancing a system that’s been dreadfully out of whack for far too long.

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Two stars. Rated R. At area theaters. Contains profanity. 100 minutes.

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Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.