REVIEW – “Sharper” is a riveting film that takes us on a journey through the world of confidence games and con artists. Director Benjamin Caron, known for his work on “Wallander” and “The Crown,” masterfully builds tension in his feature film debut, creating a world where the players have no qualms about resorting to villainy, with no shortage of ruthlessness.
The plot of Sharper is broken down into vignettes that introduce us to the characters at various stages of deception. While we get an early glimpse of the master plan, the true scope of the scheme remains a mystery until the second act. In one vignette, we meet Tom, played by Justice Smith, a quiet bookstore worker who is easily entranced by the sophisticated Sandra, played by Briana Middleton, a doctoral student on feminism in literature. The two begin a romantic relationship that is more than what it seems. In another vignette, Sebastian Stan’s Max, visits his wealthy mother, played by Julianne Moore, at a lavish dinner party where his presence is unwelcome. The powerful Richard Hobbes, played by John Lithgow, has a lucrative job offer to make Max disappear.
As the film progresses, we see that the characters are not who they appear to be, and their motivations become increasingly murky. With the stakes high, alliances are formed and broken in quick succession, as the grifters turn on each other to secure their share of the prize.
The Art of Seduction and the Hunt for a Mammoth Prize
In “Sharper,” the art of seduction plays a key role in the grifters’ master plan to achieve a mammoth payout. The film explores the subtle techniques used by these con artists to gain the trust and affection of their targets, which they then use to their advantage.
We see this play out in several vignettes throughout the film, as the grifters employ a variety of tactics to gain access to their targets’ lives and fortunes. From the quiet charm of Justice Smith’s Tom to the sophistication of Briana Middleton’s Sandra, the grifters use their wiles to manipulate those around them and get what they want.
As the stakes get higher and the grifters become more desperate, we see their tactics become even more cunning and ruthless. They move from seedy streets to opulent penthouses, as they take advantage of the vulnerabilities of the wealthy and powerful to achieve their goals.
Director Benjamin Caron expertly captures the tension and intrigue of these scenes, making us feel like we are part of the action. We see the grifters’ plans unfold in real-time, as they use every tool at their disposal to achieve their goals.
Ultimately, the art of seduction is a key element of “Sharper,” as it drives the plot forward and keeps us on the edge of our seats. It is a reminder of the power of persuasion and manipulation, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of trusting those who may not have our best interests at heart.
A Well-Acted Thriller with Flaws
The film is a captivating and well-acted thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat. The talented cast brings their characters to life, with Sebastian Stan delivering a standout performance as the conniving Max.
However, the one predictable third-act development doesn’t ruin the entertaining and engrossing plot, with neatly composed and interlocking pieces. Although the film is somewhat short on character and wound tight tonally, it still manages to provide clever construction and puts the audience’s rooting interests on a leash, jerking them around in a Soderberghian and Mametesque way.
Despite the film’s style being emotionally detached, it still manages to retain its amoral sauciness while providing enough earnestness to make the story about slicksters engaging. The film’s attempt to be apolitical escapism feels like a missed opportunity to enrich itself with some subtext, but there are still many pleasures to be had in the way it marries crisp dialogue to curlicue plotting.
While the film has its flaws, including a lackluster final act, it is still an entertaining watch. “Sharper” is a testament to the power of great acting and direction, and a reminder that even the most cunning of grifters can fall victim to their own hubris.
“Sharper” is a co-production of Apple Original Films, A24, Picturestart, FortySixty, and G&T Productions, and is exclusively available for streaming on Apple TV+.