Despite an attractive cast and the con-artist premise, Benjamin Caron’s Sharper is a mess of a film. Each actor is middling, the plot is predictable, and the film needs an editing overhaul.
Max (Sebastian Stan) is a con-artist who looks to make a big score in New York City. Max recruits parolee Sandra (Briana Middleton) to pose as a college student to seduce and con Tom (Justice Smith), the son of billionaire Richard Hobbes (John Lithgow). Meanwhile, Max’s mother Madeline (Julianne Moore) has begun seeing Richard and attempts to show him Max’s true nature.
The very nature of the con-artist film makes divulging too many plot details spoiling the majority of the film. Each character has connections one way or another with the other characters, and the confidence schemes are almost always on.
The film is not a weaving mystery that unfolds as it progresses. Instead, one character gets a single vignette for 20-30 minutes. The opening focuses on Tom, the next on Sandra, then Max, and finally Madeline. We aren’t introduced to Madeline or Richard for the better part of the film’s first hour. I understand the general conceit, but these introductions went on far too long. Each piece is its own separate short film. It might seem like a novel idea on paper, but when everything converges in the last 30 minutes, it took far too long to get there.
That doesn’t mean that the editing is the sole reason this film falters. Each cast member is half invested in the story, which gets increasingly complicated but also gets dumber. Stan is usually fully committed to whatever insanity is asked of him, but in this film, he barely emotes. He has one out-of-nowhere scene where he dances, but he barely exudes a personality outside of that. Moore puts on a bit more, but not by much. Even when she is called on to be overly dramatic, it never feels like it’s actually believable. I understand acting like you are acting, but no one is that bad of an actor, even a con artist.
Middleton gets the most to do and grow as a character, but it doesn’t mean she blows everyone else off the screen. She is alluring and mysterious, but it also fails to connect. Smith feels miscast, though he tries to juggle each aspect the film wants him to handle. It doesn’t work out too well. Lithgow is always a welcome sight, but he isn’t in the film long enough to make an impression.
Visually, the film doesn’t have much of a style. There was a real opportunity to make this film pop from the loads of other confidence films, but Caron did nothing of note. The chemistry is lacking, and even the interesting production design doesn’t get much of a showcase. Maybe it was a case of a director who is more suited for television.
Sharper should have been more fun or at least more interesting, but it turns predictable and boring. Con-artist films shouldn’t have to be this tedious.
Sharper is now streaming on AppleTV+
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