Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Sharper’ is a Case of Spoiled Potential

Director: Benjamin Caron

Writers: Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka

Stars: Julianne Moore, Sebastian Stan, Briana Middleton

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

Leaving aside the subjective factor of quality, Apple TV+ is, by some margin,- one of the less popular streaming services. All the others have well-known franchises with large fan bases, so, naturally, these have more subscribers and, consequently, more buzz around them. That said, Apple TV+ strives to focus more on quality than quantity, a mindset that has proven to be right given the success of its original films and series. Sharper is their latest movie and holds numerous reasons to catch the attention of viewers even before they press the button.

Julianne Moore and Sebastian Stan stand out from the cast, but Justice Smith and Briana Middleton are the ones who impress the most. Leaving the performances for later, the truth is that what made me gain tremendous interest in the film was the director, Benjamin Caron. It might be his feature film debut, but Caron is responsible for some of the best episodes in series like Andor, Sherlock, and The Crown.

And in Sharper, Caron demonstrates all his talent behind the camera. In a character-driven screenplay – written by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka – Caron creates a unique atmosphere for each of them, arranging stunning shots for virtually every scene and offering the spectators an extra reason to feel captivated. The narrative is divided into chapters explicitly marked with title cards with the names of each character: Tom (Smith), Sandra (Middleton), Max (Stan), and Madeline (Moore).

However, unlike other films that use this storytelling method to repeat the same events through distinct perspectives, each section of Sharper depicts a different part of the narrative, either advancing the main storyline or exploring the characters’ past. Such a change to the common formula allows, in theory, to add unpredictability to each chapter, as the public no longer holds prior knowledge about the respective conclusions. Caron manages to move from theory to practice with some success during the first half of the movie, but even before this point, the biggest problem with the screenplay arises.

Sharper is a slick film loaded with multiple twists that supposedly should increase the levels of enthusiasm as well as bring shock value to the narrative. Unfortunately, viewers quickly find themselves one or more steps ahead of all the characters, removing any surprise factor in moments that rely immensely on that very thing. Obviously, knowing what’s going to happen in advance doesn’t mean it’s not possible to enjoy the execution of such developments and appreciate the respective entertainment value.

And this is where the performances contribute tremendously to Sharper. Moore and Stan use their experience to interpret mysterious characters, which are difficult to trust, with the latter demonstrating a certain aptitude for this type of role. Surprisingly, Smith, and especially Middleton, are the ones who steal the spotlight by delivering phenomenal performances. The actor has the opportunity to finally show a more convincing dramatic side than his earlier roles, while the actress left me blown away by her expressiveness and emotional range.

Sharper doesn’t deepen the various themes related to social classes, commodities gained from wealth, or the redemption arcs present in the film, ending with an abrupt sequence of events distant from the grounded narrative developed until then. Particular character decisions generate doubt about their true intentions, which can cause some contradictory sensations for viewers, as the movie itself doesn’t completely justify these same actions.

In the end, it’s a psychological thriller full of twists that I recommend to fans of the genre, but let it be known that the ending holds enough potential to somehow spoil the overall experience if it doesn’t work for you.

Grade: C+


Manuel São Bento
Manuel São Bento
I'm a Portuguese critic based in Sweden with a tremendous passion for cinema, television, and the art of filmmaking. I try to offer an unbiased perspective from someone who has stopped watching trailers since 2017. As years went by, I was able to develop my voice within the community and cover major festivals. Co-host of a weekly film podcast, R&M: A Conversation on Cinema. Outlets: Firstshowing, InSession Film, That Shelf, Filmhounds Magazine, Echo Boomer (PT), Magazine.HD (PT). Proud member of associations such as GFCA (Global Film Critics Association), IFSC (International Film Society Critics), and OFTA (Online Film & Television Association). You can find me across social media through @msbreviews. Portfolio:

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