- Director: Benjamin Caron
- Writers: Brian Gatewood, Alessandro Tanaka
- Starring: Julianne Moore, Sebastian Stan, Briana Middleton, Justice Smith, John Lithgow
The first quarter of any calendar year rarely produces any long-lasting films that survive until the fourth quarter. It makes sense, after all; studios are in the thick of awards season and typically dump some of their less promising projects with little risk of a setback. Though there are always some gems to be found – and this year is no exception already – you’re usually better off catching up with something from the previous year. Theoretically, streaming should be the place where you can find quality content year round, but it seems like Netflix, Amazon, and Apple are taking a similar approach to traditional studios.
It certainly feels that way with Apple’s latest original film Sharper, an intriguing but ultimately bland twisty thriller. It’s the kind of film you can throw on on a Friday or Saturday night and quickly forget not long after. It’s not worth signing up for AppleTV+ on its own, but it’s not worth canceling the service if you’re dissatisfied either. Of course, it helps that the film stars plenty of likable talent onscreen, including Julianne Moore, Sebastian Stan, Justice Smith, John Lithgow, and Briana Middleton.
At least the film is structured well enough to hold your attention throughout its almost 2 hour runtime – which is, frankly, too long. Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka’s screenplay divides Sharper between the perspectives of Moore, Stan, Middleton, and Smith, unfolding additional layers as it goes. It’s a film about con artists, pulling one con after another on each other as it reveals the connections between them. The film starts out sweetly enough with Smith’s Tom, a small bookstore owner, and Middleton’s Sandra, a PhD student. Despite a believable romance that takes up the first 20ish minutes, Sandra cons Tom out of six figures and disappears on him. From there, the film shifts to her perspective as she is saved from going back to jail by Sebastian Stan’s Max, who shows her the hustler way. Soon enough, she is herself conned by Max, and the film shifts once again. Turns out Max has a complicated relationship with Julianne Moore’s Madeline, who’s running her own long con on Lithgow’s billionaire Richard Hobbes.
The idea of con artists conning each other is an intriguing one worth exploring, but the more it happens in Sharper, the less surprising it gets. Once the first con is revealed, you begin to expect it any time there’s a noteworthy development. By the time the final con is shown, you will have likely predicted it a good ten minutes earlier. And it bears mentioning that, outside of Sandra, the film never really seems interested in exploring any of the grifter’s motivations for grifting. But director Benjamin Caron gives the film a smooth visual flair that shows he could be a filmmaker worth looking out for, if given the right material. Though there isn’t a bad performance to be seen in the film, none of the actors, save for relative newcomer Middleton, is really given enough dramatic material to chew on. Her scenes with Justice Smith are the highlight of the film, and show a natural chemistry that could have been expanded upon.
While watching Sharper, you’ll inevitably be reminded of similar, better films that have come before it. It’s structured similar to Christopher Nolan’s Memento, and has the same kind of “gotcha!” intentions as Ocean’s Eleven or even Now You See Me. But, though the developments are well-intentioned enough, Caron’s film doesn’t distinguish itself enough to their levels. Instead, it will likely live on forever in the AppleTV+ library, hoping to be discovered amongst its ever-expanding catalog.
Sharper will be available in select theaters on February 10 and streaming on AppleTV+ on February 17.