There are few things more disappointing when it comes to film than all the elements that should make something a genuinely interesting piece of work don’t fulfill the promise they present. “Sharper” is, unfortunately, a good example.
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The New York-set neo-noir thriller is very much a character-driven piece and boasts an incredible ensemble cast led by Julianne Moore. It’s a tale of secrets, lies, and greed laced with lust and jealousy, and it isn’t short of twists and turns but somehow managed to feel flat, and once it gets going, it is more predictable than it should be.
The movie is split into sections, each named after one of the main characters, and as the narrative moves forward, we learn how they are connected.
We start with Justice Smith’s Tom, a bookshop owner who is instantly attracted to a customer, Sandra, played by Briana Middleton. Both a bit broken and fragile, they find solace and comfort in each other, and a romance blossoms. After a while, she tells him about a brother in trouble, and Tom coughs up the considerable amount of money needed to save his skin. No prizes for guessing that everything is not what it seems.
Enter Sebastian Stan as Max, a controlling and unstable con artist with his eyes on making other people’s wealth his own. It quickly transpires that Sandra, who it turns out is an addict, and petty criminal, is very much under his spell.
Moore plays Madeline, a woman with a taste for extremely wealthy men, but her intentions are far from sincere or loving. Her mark here is John Lithgow’s billionaire, Richard Hobbes. Madeline has a son, Stan’s Max, who she doesn’t exactly trust. This gives you some idea of where “Sharper” is headed. The unfortunate thing is that it needs more substance to match the style it oozes instead of relying on the twists and turns to dazzle. That would be fine if they weren’t easy to guess. It is possible to embrace tropes and surprise the audience, but here it feels like the surprise is that the surprises aren’t that surprises. What might be a double bluff and ultimately feels like it sells itself short.
Creatively, all the elements are here, including the solid cast and a script that was on the 2020 Black List, but none of that stops this feeling like a serviceable psychological thriller rather than a standout piece of work. It’s certainly not bad; it’s more a case of being disappointing that it doesn’t deliver on its promise.
The highlights are absolutely the performances of Moore and Lithgow, who appear to revel in their roles and are fully committed. Smith, Middleton, and Stan deliver skillful turns for the most part. There are moments where they elevate it and take it up a notch, especially Middleton and Smith, but those are fleeting. We’ll probably never know where and why that decision was made in the creative process, but it is a shame.
Certainly, an enormous appeal here is how New York is shot as a canvas for this con. While director Benjamin Caron (some of the key episodes of Lucasfilm/Tony Gilroy’s “Andor” series) may have stumbled with the pacing here, Danish cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen brings a layered visual tone with an engaging depth to both the city’s warmth and the starkness of its reality. She also makes the work of production designer Kevin Thompson pop, bringing a lavishness to the whole thing. There is little about “Sharper” that doesn’t look good and combined with Clint Mansell’s score, this is a top-notch creative assembly.
However well “Sharper” is put together, the sum of its parts doesn’t quite add up, and it’s hard to ignore that something that laughs in the face of a linear narrative, and embraces bold complexities, feels too flat and par for the course. [C+]