February 10th, 2023
STARRING: JUSTICE SMITH, BRIANA MIDDLETON, SEBASTIAN STAN, JULIANNE MOORE, JOHN LITHGOW
DIRECTED BY: BENJAMIN CARON
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
Greed is not just a deadly sin. If countless stories have informed us it’s that greed can become an addiction. You don’t hear much about billionaires saying, “hey, I’m good. I don’t need any more money.” In fact, for some reason they go entirely the other way. If they’re a billionaire they will try to be a multi-billionaire. That sentiment is lingering in Benjamin Caron’s surprising new caper film Sharper. It involves a collection of people, each one more shady than the next, and connecting them together through their way to con one another. What keeps Sharper so…well sharp, is the way it never allows a character to feel satiated. This is a whip smart heist drama with razor sharp edges.
The setting is New York, where a young man named Tom (Justice Smith) is working in a bookshop. One day Sandra (Briana Middleton) walks in, expressing her interest in literature, and looking for a copy of Jane Eyre. They glance at one another and Tom asks her out for dinner. She says no, but eventually comes around, and their love begins to grow. Seems romantic, until we get to see the other side of Sandra, who has been in cahoots with a con-artist named Max (Sebastian Stan). The con is to play Tom. All the romance is a plan to convince him that her brother needs three-hundred fifty thousand or drug dealers will kill him. This is where Tom’s estranged father Richard (John Lithgow) and his trophy wife Madeline (Julianne Moore) come into play. They’re the only ones who could get that kind of money but for Tom he’s about to realize that everyone around him can’t be trusted.
From a narrative structure, Caron and writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka choose the interesting method of introducing each character in their own segment. It’s a bit like Pulp Fiction, where all characters will intersect, but instead of slowly connecting all the pieces, what works best is knowing that anyone could be an imposter. Not a single character can be trusted and yet, like a slow crashing car into a wall, we keep waiting to see the con tear each unsuspecting person down.
Early on it is the romance between Tom and Sandra that reels us in. They have a lovely chemistry but because we know there are shady people involved it makes the collapse of love even more painful. The biggest highlight of all is the performance from Moore, who uses every tool that she possesses in her acting shed. She’s all kinds of people, from sexy, to mysterious, cold-hearted, caring, and duplicitous. And if her performance doesn’t sway you, there continues to be a villainous side to Stan that he should continue to tap into. If Fresh didn’t show you how cryptic he can be, just wait to see his harsh turn here.
From a directing standpoint Sharper is shockingly skilled. Caron has an astute way of framing his characters in various ways, while using sunlight, and shadows to keep us seeing personalities in different lights. A minor flaw is that Sharper has the law-of-characters to fight with. As we begin to realize there’s only so many cons and twists where the story will go, it becomes easy for someone to figure it all out early. Doing your own digging will certainly ruin the experience.
All that aside, Sharper has a twisted edge to it, with an all-star cast getting in on the fun of showing their sneaky side. This is a slick and entertaining film and the callousness of people will be a reality that you can’t shake. There’s tension and suspense, family dynamics, and an ugly side to how people cannot be trusted. It’s cut-throat. I guess that’s why they call it Sharper.
SHARPER IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS FRIDAY FEBRUARY 10TH, 2023 AND GLOBALLY ON APPLE TV+ ON FEBRUARY 17TH, 2023.
Written by: Leo Brady