Sharper review: A terrific cast underpins slick but predictable thriller
Sharper, a sleek, twisty neo-noir riff on scammers, skims the mess and settles for a tidy ending, leaving some to be desired.
As the opening credits of A24 and Apple's collaboration put it, "Sharper" is "the one who lives by wisdom." For the most part, everyone at Sharper is sane to themselves. That's probably what makes the film both feel surprisingly confident to debut and feel like something's missing. With a stunning cast, Sharper has everything it needs to be — a sleek, neo-noir riff on crooks and hustlers that's twisty and funny. But, just when things really go sour, Sharper skimps and settles in for the mess, a tidy ending that leaves something to be desired.
Sharper begins with a simple love story between Tom (Justin Smith) and Sandra (Brianna Middleton). Sandra walked into Tom's bookstore and mentioned Jane Eyre, and the two quickly fell into each other's arms. There's just one problem: Sandra's brother owes some people $350,000. Conveniently, Tom has this (and more) in his bank account. Here's where anyone who considers themselves "sharp" should start to piece together that Sandra might not be who she says she is. The film immediately confirms those suspicions, revealing its kaleidoscopic tale of crooks and charlatans The upper class of New York society.
After Sandra tricks Tom, Sharper quickly reveals the structure of the story it's trying to tell, a deceitful but believable move in timing and perspective. This deceitful approach to storytelling became a hot topic after the release of "The Glass Onion," and the film reveals its reliance on turning back in time for a twist. Many claim that deceitful stories are lazy stand-ins for something smarter. However, Sharper can't be accused of lazy storytelling, and indeed, it's the film's deceitfulness that makes its story more interesting in the first place.
Straightforwardly, if Stylish Liar is a movie, Sharp is probably an underwhelming movie. As director Benjamin Cuarón and screenwriters Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka unravel the layers in "Sharp," the viewer's perspective expands and they begin to adjust to the film's pace. The pacing may have doomed itself to predictability, but it's an interesting kind of predictability. The fact that Sharper has an excellent cast also helps with that. Julianne Moore loves her role as John Lithgow's character's young wife. Plus, Sebastian Stan's performance It's equal parts grime and polish. Max is another character in Stan's growing repertoire of disturbing men, including his role as Tommy Lee in Pam & Tommy or cannibal boyfriend Steve in Fresh.
Most notable, however, is Middleton's role as Sandra. Sandra is accidentally anchored in all of the film's reveals, even though she disappears for a brief moment. That Middleton was able to sell the ending was a feat in itself. For all the Sharper's twists and turns, it's disappointing that the last one lands with the softest of hits. Just when the Sharper should be out swinging, it punches out of the blue in an unexpected way, avoiding the mess and looking for something cleaner. After nearly two tense hours, though, it was more of a relief than a catharsis.
For all its faults, Sharper manages to combine all of its faults with a technique that can easily be screwed up by the less able. Even if it fails at its biggest con -- pulling an audience over -- it's still a tense thriller that feels fully delivered. Hollywood has long bemoaned the demise of mid-budget original adult films, but "Sharp" certainly fits the bill. It should come as no surprise that Apple is a willing place to make these products. The streamer is slowly building a catalog full of its own original content, rather than an established one. Sharper is at least a worthy addition to the library.
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