Benjamin Caron’s “Sharper,” now in restricted theatrical launch and streaming on Apple TV+ subsequent week, permits one to think about what Julianne Moore and John Lithgow might have completed with an ‘80s David Mamet screenplay like “Home of Video games” or “The Spanish Prisoner.” It’s a type of narrative jigsaw puzzles that feels prefer it went from theatrical characteristic to streaming collection someday within the mid-‘10s. And so there’s a little bit of a jolt of enjoyment at simply watching it unfold, shifting forwards and backwards by varied cons till the ultimate one lands on the desk. The issue is that the Mamet model of tough-talking puzzle film is more durable to tug off than it appears, and writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka simply don’t have the reward of dialogue wanted to raise this thriller past its basis. Mamet’s finest movies used dialogue as a weapon as his characters alternately withheld and revealed like Ricky Jay doing a magic trick. “Sharper” clearly desires to imitate that aesthetic, however the entire thing is just adequate as a diversion.
Justice Smith performs Tom, a soft-spoken younger man who works at an previous bookstore, promoting first editions of well-known novels. One evening, a wonderful younger girl named Sandra (relative newcomer Briana Middleton, greater than holding her personal reverse some legends) enters Tom’s store, and the 2 have on the spot chemistry. They flirt and ultimately go to dinner, leaping into a fast relationship. After solely a few weeks, Sandra is assembly Tom’s mates, and the L-word is even thrown round. Then she reveals she has a brother who’s in bother. He wants some money, an insane amount of money. After the hazard for Sandra’s brother intensifies, Tom agrees to get the funds from his extraordinarily rich father, Richard (John Lithgow). After all, Sandra disappears with the cash.
Don’t fear. That’s not a significant spoiler, solely the primary of a number of con video games and revelations revealed by Gatewood and Tanaka’s vignette construction, one which focuses on one character at a time, revealing the function they play in a script that generally stretches credulity because it flashes again and generally even sideways. The second vignette jumps again to disclose how Sandy grew to become Sandra underneath the tutelage of a slimy con artist named Max (Sebastian Stan), who simply occurs to have a connection to Madeline (Julianne Moore), the brand new spouse of, you guessed it, Richard.
“Sharper” opens with a definition of its title: “One who lives by their wits.” That ought to offer you an thought of how sensible this script thinks it’s. As soon as featured on the Black Listing, it’s a type of chronological jumbles that streamers adore as a result of it drops a revelation each couple of minutes like a metronome. However there’s a easy pleasure in watching the thriller machine at work. We don’t get films like this fairly often anymore, and I loved watching the succession of betrayals and double-crosses, even when I might inform the place it was going to finish lengthy earlier than it did.
And but it’s simple to see the place “Sharper” is just a little uninteresting. Not solely do the cons grow to be a bit unbelievable, particularly the benefit with which the ultimate one is executed, however you understand that these characters are fairly shallowly drawn. Once more, Mamet received a lot mileage out of incisive dialogue. We don’t want intensive backstory if the dialogue can convey that these individuals are sensible sufficient and road savvy sufficient to tug off their con video games. “Sharper” doesn’t fairly join these dots.
It’s additionally too trendy by half. It is a glossy affair that pretends to visitors in determined folks however hardly ever lets its characters sweat. It has too little grime underneath its fingernails and too little blood pumping by its veins. It must really feel extra harmful to be really efficient. Having stated all of that, it goes down easily. Many of the gifted solid is minimally challenged by the script—even when it is enjoyable to see Moore chewing on one thing that enables her to be extra playful however Middleton has loads to juggle as Sandra/Sandy goes by a number of iterations on this twisty story. She’s very participating in a approach that makes one wish to see her once more in an analogous undertaking. Perhaps one thing pointier.