It’s a shame Sharper dropped quietly on Apple TV over the weekend, because it’s one of the more enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year. With a stellar cast, and a story structured around twists and turns, it makes for an engaging watch. It reminded me of David Mamet’s House of Games, where we slowly become aware that we’re watching a con, yet eager as ever to see where things end up. Director Benjamin Caron’s use of silhouettes adds to this feeling of us watching mere shapes and shadows – only privy to a world of play-acting and deception.
If you didn’t know what kind of movie you’re watching, the opening meet-cute between Tom (Justice Smith) and Sandra (Briana Middleton) might throw you for a loop. He owns a bookstore, she’s looking for Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and they find themselves connecting over a shared love of books. Even a friend of Tom’s tells him later that Sandra is basically Tom’s dream girl made flesh. Only she’s not, and Tom learns that when something is too good to be true, it usually is. Smith and Middleton have fantastic chemistry together, and someone should consider putting them in a romantic movie somewhere down the road.
Then Sebastian Stan’s Max enters the picture. I won’t go into details as to his involvement in the narrative, and where exactly he fits in, but he does great work, as per usual. He’s stone cold and unreadable as Max, only living for the moments where he gets to use his wits and be the sharper man. Stan’s natural charisma makes him perfect for the role, but we’re also aware that underneath all that good looks and charm is a vulnerable young man with a dark past. His character is also the one that contributes to the heat and romantic tension in the story, having a relationship with both Sandra and Julianne Moore’s Madeline.
It’s truly a pleasure to watch the cast strut their stuff, and look on in amazement as they commit to a moment of high emotion before switching it off to reveal their true feelings.
Eventually, we see that even though the high of the score is the greatest feeling, no one wants to spend the rest of their lives just looking for the next mark. If everyone’s a mark, and relationships are made just to be manipulated, then nothing real can flourish. But given the nature of these people, can they ever stop? Will their eyes forever be on the prize, and never about the people they screw over in the process? It is the truly sharp ones that desire to walk away, to know when enough is enough, to put down these false personas and let other people in.
And of course, as we’ve come to expect from nearly every movie Sebastian Stan’s involved in, there has to be a dance scene. I can’t blame Caron, as if I was a director, I would do the same – probably even insert a dance scene myself if the script didn’t have one. There are some really great needle-drops, like “Slippery People” by Talking Heads, and “Dirty Laundry” by Don Henley, and I like that even the music shows us what kind of people we’re dealing with.
I think it says a lot about a film if we can watch it through, know all the twists and turns, yet desire to take that trip all over again. That’s when you know it’s achieved what it set out to do.
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Benjamin Caron's film is well-structured, with each new chapter teasing us with new information, till we've left with the big picture at the end. And while the conclusion does feel a bit saccharine, it's still a trip worth taking.
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