The con is on in director Benjamin Caron’s sophomore film Sharper, a joint production with A24. Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka pen the film’s screenplay, which opens with text explaining what a “sharper” is. A “sharper” uses their sharp mind to swindle for a living. We soon meet our first character New York antiquarian bookshop owner Tom (Justice Smith).
One day, he finds the courage to ask Sandra (Briana Middleton) on a date. She is a student seeking a book for her professor. Initially, she rejects him, but as he is closing up shop for the evening, Sandra suddenly stands in front of him again, ready to go out. At dinner, the two realize how much they have in common – and start to fall in love.
Tom hears a loud knock at Sandra’s apartment during an overnight stay. Tom lies in bed listening to a strange man and his girlfriend yelling at each other outside. She later admits to him that she has trouble with her ex-boyfriend and needs $350,000 to get rid of him. When Tom, who inherited unprecedented wealth, wants to give Sandra the money, Sandra refuses. In the real world, their relationship isn’t strong enough for that, and Tom should know better, but Tom is a simp. After Sandra gets the goods, she goes ghost.
The next chapter continues with Sandra, who previously had a drug problem, learning trickery from a slick hustler named Max (Sebastian Stan). Max has a Rolex on his wrist and an even flashier car. Max’s backstory also includes drug abuse which is his reasoning for saving Sandra. As the layers of the film continue to get revealed, we learn that Max’s habits and bad boy behavior have him on the verge of repudiation from his cultured mother. His matriarch is Madeline (Julianne Moore), a power broker in New York who recently married a billionaire hedge fund investor named Richard (John Lithgow).
Sharper is a film that, if you have watched any other con film, you will see the twists coming a mile away. However, the cast enjoys themselves, especially Sebastian Stan hamming it up as a villain. Briana Middleton vastly impressed me in The Tender Bar, so it was a pleasure to see her on-screen again. The screen presence of veterans such as Julianne Moore and John Lightow remains strong. Additionally, Justice Smith’s star continues to rise.
Overall this is a solid sophomore feature from Caron with stylish cinematography from Charlotte Bruus Chrisensenone. The narrative is well-crafted, with a few surprises along the way and enough moments of levity to keep things from getting too heavy. Despite its shortcomings, Sharper is an entertaining and stylish crime romp with a few unexpected twists and turns.
Final Grade: B
Sharper is in select theaters now and premieres globally on Apple TV+ on February 17
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