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SHARPER (2023)

Release Date: 02/17/23 [Apple TV+] 
Genre: Crime. Drama. Thriller.

Studio: A24

"Motivations are suspect, and expectations are turned chaos, as a con artist takes on Manhattan billionaires." 


Con artists and their antics usually make for a compelling story with twists and turns that leave you open-mouthed, staring at the screen in disbelief. Sharper attempts to do this with a script from writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka that was on the Black List for several years. 


The story is told with a series of vignettes that each focus on a single characters’ story. We begin with Tom (Justice Smith), a shy manager of a bookstore. He meets Sandra (Briana Middleton) at his shop and they begin dating. They seem perfect for each other with similar interests and a passion for literature. After a few weeks, Sandra’s brother gets into trouble and inexplicably needs $350,000. Tom, who is very much in love, doesn’t bat an eye as he borrows money from his extremely wealthy father to help Sandra out. After getting the money, Sandra disappears. 


The next vignette focuses on Sandra (Briana Middleton), a young heroin addict on parole. She meets Max (Sebastian Stan) in a bar and he takes her under his wing. He teaches her how to con people by sharpening her conversational skills and showing her how to assume an alias. After she successfully gets a man at a bar to invite her up to his hotel room (where they proceed to rob him), Max deems that she is ready for a longer con. 


The next two vignettes showcase Max and Madeline (Julianne Moore) who have worked together for many years to swindle rich people out of their money. As the vignettes reveal more and more about the four main characters, the twists become more intense and it’s hard to know who to trust. The final con is extravagant (and also very absurd) and it’s clear Gatewood and Tanaka were going for the shock factor. While some of the twists are well executed and surprising, others are silly and feel out of place. The overall tone of the movie screams film noir, which plays out better in certain vignettes than others. The dialogue feels clunky at times and with a suspenseful con in the foreground for most of the movie, it’s disappointing that the dialogue wasn’t more witty.


But the movie is helped tremendously by the stellar cast. Moore and Stan put in powerful performances that are incredibly believable even when the storyline gets a little hokey. Moore in particular makes Madeline more interesting than she should be and it’s fun to see her play a character with so much range and unpredictability. Middleton fits right in with Stan and Moore, effortlessly slipping into multiple personas throughout the movie with a compelling on screen presence. Without the powerhouse acting performances, Sharper could have been quite dull. But the acting helps to increase the believability of the story. 


Overall, Sharper is a fun watch with some easy to predict twists and others that will leave you shocked. The acting performances are tremendous and although the story struggles in some parts, it’s a fresh take on the con artist genre.

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