Movie Review: What starts as a slick, innovative thriller slowly turns for the worst as “Sharper” gets lost in every plot twist you can think of. While trying to stay one step ahead of the audience, it devolves into absurdist chaos that its stellar cast can’t keep up with.
“Sharper” is the newest original to land on Apple TV+, which at this point has become a service I’ll generally check out any movie they release. Even if a few of them can be duds, there’s quite a bit to find that stands with the best that any streaming service releases. There’s a reason they won the big Oscar before the likes of Netflix; their best typically beats out any other original streaming service’s best. “Sharper” aims to kick off another strong Apple TV+ year lined up with a handful of intriguing releases.
The movie follows a handful of con artists all interested in the same sum of money. What starts rather simple slowly grows into a game of intelligence and nuance. The movie pulls back layers slowly and methodically until all knowledge is eventually laid out and confronted. Although “Sharper” isn’t necessarily a murder mystery along the likes of “Clue” or “Knives Out,” it shares many of the same tonal elements and stylistic choices.
Few movies attempt to amaze you like “Sharper,” and for that I have to give it some credit. The movie works incredibly hard to stay in front of you and pull the rug out minutes before you can piece it altogether. Again, that’s a relatively difficult piece to pull off. Unfortunately, though, “Sharper” does it much to often to actually land any punches. What starts as a fun and deepening game of lies and deceit quickly becomes confusing homework trying to remember character relationships and plot points from scenes ago.
For this reason, “Sharper” both earns its title and feels a bit tongue-in-cheek. You can feel emotionally and intellectually manipulated as the film builds on one twist after another. It’s hard to build connections and relationships with certain people when they’re backstories become more cluttered after every chapter. It’s beautifully shot and well performed, but it slowly loses steam when you start to feel yourself being worked over.
Perhaps the biggest revelation in “Sharper” is that you get to see each actor and actress in this loaded cast display a handful of different skillsets. It’s hard to say who the definitive lead is because each of the main characters get their own chapter of the story that helps develop their own motives and decisions. Each of these chapters also serve to add one more wrinkle to the convoluted tale director Benjamin Caron is trying to bring to life.
“Sharper” starts rather small and eventually branches out. The opening sequence is shared between bookstore owner Tom (Justice Smith) and seemingly innocent Sandra (Briana Middleton). Their relationship and interests seem rather inconspicuous and harmless at first, and both actors have some semblance of chemistry. I’ve never really been a fan of Justice Smith. He hasn’t been in many devoted, serious roles that command a sort of high amount of skill – not saying this is that, either, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Eventually “Sharper” blossoms into a much more dynamic and diverse story, chronicling con artists all determined to split the wealth of dying businessman Richard Hobbes (John Lithgow). The cast grows to include Sandra’s life vest Max (Sebastian Stan, who seems destined to play heartless douchebags for his entire career) and his mother Madeline (Julianne Moore). Again, each character gets an elongated sequence that helps dive deeper into their own actions and motivations.
That’s all fine and dandy, but the main concern with “Sharper” is that it gets too smart for its own good; it’s like the writers watched “Pulp Fiction” one too many times before ramping up to write this. The movie isn’t bad necessarily, it just becomes instantly forgettable and leaves your brain the moment the credits roll. I didn’t find myself buying in enough and wanting to piece it together at the end. It felt too frustratingly obvious because every plot twist eventually became so painfully obvious.
That’s not to say there isn’t any fun to be had with “Sharper.” It quickly moves from plot point to plot point in a way that I really admired. Julianne Moore eventually holds this thing together because she becomes so ensnarled in every mistake another character makes. The beginning of the third act is noticeably tense and effective, even if it becomes wallpaper for two more fake endings. I was shockingly light on notes when it rolled credits because nothing felt substantially important here. It just kinda goes.