Greetings again from the darkness. A film made by women in a male-dominated profession about women in a (different) male-dominated profession becomes the first female-centric Wall Street movie. Director Meera Menon (Farah Goes Bang) and writers Amy Fox, Sarah Megan Thomas and Alysia Reiner have a lot to say … maybe even more than they intended.
Anna Gunn (“Breaking Bad”) delivers a strong lead performance as Naomi Bishop, a hard-driving and successful investment banker – a self-described “banker chick”. She’s coming off a failed client IPO – her biggest career failure. Naomi basically torments and disrespects her first assistant Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas), and she regularly sleeps with a co-worker and hedge fund manager Michael Connor (James Purefoy) for the benefits only. In other words, Naomi is much like the men we have seen in these roles over the years.
While pursuing her next IPO with a hotshot d-bag tech entrepreneur (Samuel Roukin as Ed) who claims to have a revolutionary impenetrable cyberware, Naomi is unwittingly (although it could be argued that she SHOULD have known) being played by multiple parties. One of these is a Justice Department investigator (Alysia Reiner as Samantha) who is trying to use their old college connection as a way to gather intel on Naomi’s firm and Michael Connor. Adding complexity and turmoil are Craig Bierko as an egotistical investor who pressures Michael for insider info, Sophie von Hasselberg (Marin) who is a disgruntled programmer for Ed’s company, and Tracie Thoms as Samantha’s partner and co-parent of their kids.
Fractured relationships abound as all characters are driven by something other than the relationships. We are told “money is not a dirty word”, but it sure seems like motivation for these folks is centered on power, ambition, and yes … money. The social issues and moral dilemmas come across as less important than the challenge of competing (rather than collaborating). Seamless backstabbing is a valued skill in this world, and always present are greed, desperation and paranoia. This is post-2008 Wall Street, but it looks pretty darned familiar.
Previous films have taken us inside this world. Wall Street (1987), Margin Call (2011), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), and The Big Short (2015) each provided some lesson on this corrupt-to-the-core industry and helped us understand the dual meaning of the title, but this is the first to show us the women who fight the same fights. If there is a disappointment here, it’s the apparent conclusion that putting women in the same high-stakes game as men means they will compete in much the same way, rather than finding a better, more graceful way. Gordon Gekko may not have been right when he said “greed is good”, but it seems pretty clear that greed is prevalent. It’s a lesson we evidently must be reminded of on a regular basis … and whatever you do, make sure to count the chocolate chips before giving that cookie to Naomi!