Whether a hijinks film successfully works out its kinks or not, it will always contain a fun mystery game with unscrupulous characters—and that is where Sharper occasionally finds its magic.
Four stories unfold in a monotone, cloudy New York, beginning with Tom (Justice Smith), a cozy sweater-wearing, nervous bookshop owner. He meets Sandra (Briana Middleton), a student at New York University studying Redefining Radicalism the Rise of Black Feminism in American Literature.
It’s a mouthful, and the characters know it, but with a golden light (the only one you’ll see in this film) shining on the covers of glossy books and jazz in the background, it’s the introduction to a love story—and a crime.
As the story unfurls, you learn more about Sandra, the life she’s created with stone-faced Max (Sebastian Stan), and, by association, an alluring Madeline (Julianne Moore).
There are moments in Sharper when the fool isn’t supposed to be the viewer, but a docile character, so determined to accept the “someone I know is in a lot of trouble” trope. Sharper is a film that makes you want to yell at the characters to see through the cracks, but if you blink too fast, you might miss a few yourself.
There are also moments of predictability—of course, the lying, cheating character will indeed lie and cheat—but the film still has its fun portraying a ping-pong game of malevolence and vengeance.
The performances aren’t what make Sharper fall short at times. Moore, clad in monochromatic cashmere outfits, has a scene where she showcases Acting 101: How to perform grief. Smith wears his anxiety in a way that makes his scenes uncomfortable to sit with until the film’s end. Stan is somehow deceiving and gullible. Middleton (in the worst braided wig I’ve ever seen) is a hollow shell that still somehow reflects light. You want to see more of these characters and the creation of who they came to be.
Sharper is worth the watch if you’ve subscribed to Apple TV+. The grit wears off quickly, but it doesn’t exhaust the viewer. Winning isn’t a black-or-white process—it’s as gray as the film. R, 116 min.
Limited release in theaters and streaming on Apple TV+