by George Wolf
It may not be a textbook Rashomon approach, but director/co-writer Benjamin Caron leans on a similar structure in his impressive feature debut for Apple Originals, Sharper.
Set up in chapters named for the main personalities, the film first introduces us to Tom (Justice Smith, from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu). Tom owns a struggling bookstore in NYC, and is mostly estranged from his billionaire father, Richard (John Lithgow) and his new wife, Madeline (Julianne Moore).
But when Tom sells a book to PhD student Sandra (The Tender Bar‘s Briana Middleton), a relationship begins. And a few weeks later, Tom is offering to give Sandra thousands of dollars to settle her troubled brother’s debts with some bad guys. He gives her the satchel full of cash, and watches her walk away. Yeah.
So, right away, we’re on Tom’s side. But then, we get Sandra’s backstory, which includes some important details about her life before walking into that bookstore, and about her shady brother.
And then there’s the relationship between Richard and Madeline, which gets plenty complicated with the sudden arrival of Madeline’s ne’er-do-well son, Max (Sebastian Stan).
Caron, from TV’s The Crown, Andor and Sherlock, weaves the agendas together with a fine hand, revealing mysterious secrets just when they can add the most fun to the journey.
And this is an entertaining slice of life on the grift, one leaning more toward gloss and polish than neo and noir. The performances are all stellar, which ironically adds to the film’s slight stumble at the finish line. That final twist will not be hard to sniff out, even for mildly experienced film buffs. But we believe these people know all the angles, and when a character calls out a con midway through, it should only increase the chance that their antenna would be up for this same play later on.
But cons are just fun, aren’t they? And Sharper is a well-crafted and clever one, even with a finale that dulls its edges a bit.