'Sharper' Has Sharp Performances and Even Sharper Twists

Directed by Benjamin Caron

Starring Julianne Moore, Sebastian Stan, Justice Smith, Briana Middleton, John Lithgow

Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

BY Rachel HoPublished Feb 17, 2023

I always understood putting "a hat on a hat" as something related to comedy — a joke getting muddled by extra layers of pomp and circumstance and, as a result, losing its overall effect. Benjamin Caron's Sharper gave me a completely fresh perspective on this phrase. While being a really fun addition to the mystery-thriller genre, the amount of twists and turns can be head-spinning.

Sharper is divided into chapters titled after the main characters, starting with Tom (Justice Smith) and ending with Sandy (Briana Middleton), the two halves of a new romance. Tom, a small bookshop owner, and Sandy, a PhD student, engage in a beautiful New York City love story that can only exist in a movie, until Sandy's past starts to catch up with them. 

Initially I thought the film was going to be told Rashomon-style: the same story told from the perspectives of the different characters involved. There is a bit of that, but for the most part, the same scenes aren't rehashed multiple times. Instead, the story continues to move forward (and sometimes backwards) as we're introduced to all the major players, including Sebastian Stan's Max and Julianne Moore's Madeline. 

It's hard to dive too far into the plot of a movie like Sharper without giving away the goods. There are multiple heists, multiple acts of deceit and multiple reveals that create a predictably unpredictable film. For the majority of Sharper, there are enough enjoyable thrills to create a really engaging genre movie, and even if some of the plot twists are visible from a mile away, the ride is still high entertainment. 

Where the film lost its edge for me was in its last moments. Leading up to the conclusion, there are so many turns that they start to blend into each other and feel a bit numbing. For all the buildup and anticipation, Sharper finishes on a disappointingly dull note. And although unquestionably a fantastic actress, Moore turns in an uneven performance at the movie's climax that only serves to emphasize how loose the story threads are in the end. 

Impressively, though, the film's less-than-stellar finale doesn't take away from the film as a whole. Save for that one scene, Moore, along with Stan, Smith and Middleton, are a formidable ensemble that play with each other really effectively. John Lithgow pops in as Madeline's partner, and as always, delivers a great performance. 

A big reason for Sharper's success is its cinematographer, Charlotte Bruus Christensen (who also shot a personal favourite film of mine, Anton Corbijn's Life, as well as A Quiet Place and Fences). Christensen takes the other-worldly elements of films like Blade Runner 2049 and blends them seamlessly with the coldness of Se7en, creating a movie that feels grounded yet fantastical — perfectly matching the heightened nature of Sharper

This isn't a movie that's going to make massive waves, but for anyone into the twisty-turny genre (that's a thing, right?), Sharper is a great movie to watch on a lazy Saturday afternoon. And for anyone who's just into really nice-looking movies, Christensen's work is truly worth seeking out.

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