Sharper review – a duller than expected confidence game

By Marc Miller
Published: February 17, 2023 (Last updated: March 8, 2023)


Sharper forgets the cardinal rule regarding the con artist film genre — the third act cannot be overshadowed by what transpired before it.

Directed by Benjamin Caron, we review the 2023 Apple TV+  film Sharper, which does not contain spoilers.

Movies that feature the trials and tribulations of conmen and women can range from slick to camp. The A24 film, Sharper, is a bit of both, even if the first act is an intriguing setup, and the second act has a reasonably decent twist, albeit a con-artist movie trope we have seen before. All of this should add up to a proper payoff, but any confidence game on film needs to have a finish that tops them all. The third act of Benjamin Caron’s freshman feature is a telegraphed effort with a dull finish.

Sharper Review and Plot Summary

Sharper’s story follows a handful of con artists, billionaires, and heirs to billionaires. That includes Tom (Justice Smith), a bookstore owner who meets a young Ph.D. candidate, Sandra (Briana Middleton), who is earning her degree in literature. Tom’s estranged father, Richard (John Lithgow), is a wealthy and powerful blue blood. The man worth over nine billion dollars has put a charitable foundation in his son’s name.

Richard and Tom have had a falling out and have been at odds with each other since losing their wife/mother. However, Richard is now involved with Madeline (Julianne Moore). She is a good twenty years younger than Richard but old enough to have a millennial son, Max (Sebastian Stan). Madeline’s son is spoiled and bratty and makes an entrance at Richard’s cocktail party that would put the guard up on any potential wealthy stepfather.

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Those are the players, now the man behind the curtain. As mentioned above, this is Andor and The Crown director Benjamin Caron’s first feature. And this is more than a competent effort through the first two acts. The slick framing, over-the-top yet entertaining performances, and the story build a curious amount of glamorized campiness that never reaches that type of so-bad-it’s-good appeal.

The script, by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, part of the famous “black list” of popular but unproduced screenplays by Hollywood executives, is essentially broken into three sections. Not quite ingeniously, but with pun intended, it sharply plays around with the film’s timeline. The first section, involving Smith’s Tom and Middleton’s Sandra, builds genuine suspense. While part two heavily involves Sebastian Stan (could there be any better confidence man?), it engages the viewer’s intrigue. The transitions into each section are creative, leaving one behind as the secondary characters lead the way to the next story.

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However, what the writers and director forget on the way to the conclusion is the third act payoff has to be more innovative and more clever than anything seen before it in a con-artist caper. Here, the third act is overdone, while the first 70 minutes feel effortless. Unless you have never seen a film in this genre, you know exactly where this one will end up. The twists are so telegraphed they might as well come with neon arrows, and the reasoning is corny at best.

Is the 2023 movie Sharper worth watching?

Even with some performances, particularly by Moore and Stan, reveled in, Sharper’s finale is duller than expected. The result is disrespectful for a film that proclaims itself as sharp as a tack, which doesn’t put much faith or respect in the viewer’s hands.

What did you think of the 2023 Apple TV+ film Sharper? Comment below.

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