Directed by Benjamin Caron.
Starring Julianne Moore, Sebastian Stan, Justice Smith, Briana Middleton, John Lithgow, Darren Goldstein, Phillip Johnson Richardson, Kerry Flanagan, David Pittu, Quincy Dunn-Baker, and Lucy Taylor.
A small, wealthy family in New York City gets progressively torn apart by secrets, lies, and the theft that orchestrates all of it.
It’s a fool’s errand to review Sharper in a traditional sense. Giving a summary of the narrative and characters orbiting the story is futile because director Benjamin Caron (working from a script by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka) repeats the same conceptual twist throughout; this character is not who they appear to be. At first, it’s a welcome misdirection that creates a grander mystery with larger possibilities. However, it quickly becomes evident that no one put much effort into constructing characters worthy of caring about these twists.
Sharper also utilizes a chapter structure to jump across time and character perspectives, which doesn’t fully allow the filmmakers to explore and develop any of these characters, even in a two-hour window. It’s as if Benjamin Caron pitched Apple a TV project (which would make more sense given his IMDb credits), and they misheard him, taking it for a movie.
Considering that everything we do learn about one of these characters is typically thrown out the window 20 minutes later, probably before switching over to someone else, it also leaves one wondering, frustrated, and wondering what the point is. Committing to one character is not a golden rule, but Sharper continuously severs its momentum by changing perspectives without any real sense of the story being told.
Everyone here is a con artist in some form, meaning that after roughly two chapters of this, one becomes numb to anything and everything characters say, questioning their every action. As a result, it’s fairly easy to predict Sharper scene by scene, which would be forgivable if there were interesting characters or weighty stakes. Bluntly put, even the few sympathetic characters here are too stupid to take seriously.
The longer the film goes on, the more it reeks of desperation, getting wilder and more implausible with every rug pull; it’s an exhausting two hours. At times, it feels like the film wants to get at something deeper involving the nature of bribes and how even well-meaning people can get swept up in corruption, but always instantly drops that thought. Otherwise, it’s a bland look at greed, turning a family to swindle one another.
The upside is that Sharper is a competently crafted, handsomely mounted piece with decent short compositions and noteworthy lighting usage. Most importantly, the film milks every one of its veteran actor performances for all their worth, with Julianne Moore and Sebastian Stan in particular as a mother-son duo, with the latter an unhinged psychopath looking to con his way into a fortune at the expense of her rich public figure boyfriend played by John Lithgow.
Trickling down, there are relatives and those in the family’s sphere assortment of actors, most notably Justice Smith as a formerly suicidal bookstore owner that develops a fast-moving relationship with a recovering junkie and university student played by Briana Middleton.
Make no mistake, there is something compulsively compelling about watching Sharper, a trashy predictable thriller about the twists and nothing else. Even during the standard final montage revealing all, there’s not much beyond confirming expectations, although there is mild intrigue in witnessing how it plays out. But the biggest shock is how empty the whole endeavor is.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com