Although there have been “Sharper” thrillers, this one from A24 still makes for an engaging, entertaining watch.

Every thriller about confidence men (or women) usually has two questions poised against it: How is this film going to stay one step ahead of me, as the audience? Or, How is this film going to attempt to insult my intelligence? Director Benjamin Caron’s sleek thriller Sharper doesn’t commit the hindmost cinematic sin of arrogance but it does mostly stay one step ahead of its audience. The film begins with Tom (Justice Smith), a bookstore owner who meets a beautiful, charming grad student named Sandra (Briana Middleton). They have a nice tête-à-tête about Zora Neale Hurston and grad school and before long, Tom asks Sandra out and she accepts. And before long after that, the two lovebirds fall for each other over restaurant dates, friend get-togethers, and sweet pillow talk. One may first become confounded or double-check the film’s title as the first 15-or-so minutes of this film give the impression of a sappy New York romance rather than a sleek, well-written thriller (which Sharper most definitely is). It’s within the first 15 minutes that the film shrewdly pulls off its own confidence trick on the audience: making you believe the lie that its telling.


L-R: Briana Middleton and Justice Smith in SHARPER, premiering February 17, 2023 on Apple TV+.

If details in this review seem scarce, it’s a purposeful move to not give away too much of the film’s twists and surprises. Such a twisty thriller can’t be complete without a great ensemble or engaging performances. Briana Middleton (of Tender Bar fame) proves herself worthy to hang with the likes of Julianne Moore (When You Finish Saving the World) and John Lithgow (Hollow Point), brining great emotional gravitas to the complex role of Sandra. A duplicitous role as a charming, nerdy bookworm and a desperate, strung-out addict requires great range and Middleton successfully steps up to the challenge. Sebastian Stan (Fresh) gives a terrific cold-blooded performance as Max, fitting the bill as a professional that is not be played with and rarely gives second chances. Stan continues to knock it out of the park with his choices of roles, switching up his charismatic deadly turn in Mimi Cave’s Fresh and his gruff, guilt-ridden performance as Bucky in the Marvel films for a cool performance that is as controlled as it is diverse. Moore, elevating the material as expected, is great as Madeline, a character who tries to always stay a step ahead of the con as permitted. She effortlessly manipulates other players as well as her own emotions, creating a terrific performance. Lithgow pulls in small solid work as stubborn, wealthy businessman Richard and Justice Smith (Pokémon: Detective Pikachu), while he does have a likeable presence, comes off awkward in the role of Tom. He doesn’t totally deliver the vibe of a character that has fallen in love and has been betrayed in the process. He is a weak link in the cast but is still overall enjoyable.


L-R: Justice Smith and Julianne Moore in SHARPER, premiering February 17, 2023 on Apple TV+.

Sharper manages to stay ahead of its audience with its many twists and turns. Writers Brian Gatewood (The Sitter) and Alessandro Tanaka (The Sitter) create a twisty, smart thriller while Benjamin Caron (Andor/Sherlock) directs with a steady, sleek hand. There are characters you root for, characters you don’t, and the feeling that no one is as they seem keeps the audience in suspense as to who is in fact the sharpest in the room. Even in a world where “you never feel sorry for the mark,” there is still room for some of the most stolid characters to have time for moral reflection, thinking just how far one is willing to go to pull off a con. All good things aside, the major flaw within Sharper (in comparison to many thrillers about “confidence pros” before it) is that it commits the cardinal cinematic sin of having a twist (or “final con”) that is both predictable and implausible. This ending makes way for the also inevitable “happy ending.” As such an ending is expected and probably written in the unwritten rules of “con films,” it would’ve been nice to see Sharper get a bit edgier or darker in its final turn.


L-R: John Lithgow and Julianne Moore in SHARPER, premiering February 17, 2023 on Apple TV+.

Sharper isn’t to confidence thrillers what Knives Out is to mystery whodunits. It doesn’t change the game or elevate the playing field. It does what it does competently and entertainingly. A sleek thriller that doesn’t insult its audience’s intelligence nor delivers subpar twists and turns. The surprises are effective, the performances are great and the story is solid. In a world where entertainment and a good time are enough, Sharper has both in spades and makes for a well-written, fun ride.

In select theaters February 10th, 2023.
Available to stream on Apple TV+ February 17th, 2023.

For more information, head to either Apple TV’s or A24‘s official Sharper webpage.

Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.


Categories: In Theaters, Reviews, streaming

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: