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Sharper_Photo_0106.jpg

This Apple TV+ Movie Would Be a Top 5 'Swindled' Episode

By Sara Clements | Film | February 17, 2023 |

By Sara Clements | Film | February 17, 2023 |


Sharper_Photo_0106.jpg

Sharper, now on Apple TV+, is a high-stakes game of power and greed that hits you with twist after twist. Benjamin Caron’s film is a sleek, sexy psychological thriller … until a third act that sees it almost trip and fall on the rug it’s been pulling under the audience’s feet. Still, the trickery is thrilling enough to also see past the absent answer to a key question. As the secrets of penthouse fifth avenue get exposed, those who thirst for riches and power get fucked over. And who doesn’t love that?

A ticking score is a clever way of introducing a film whose story is as sophisticated as a clock’s gears. But it all seems predictable at first in writers Brian Gatewood’s and Alessandro Tanaka’s rom-com sentimentality. Tom (Justice Smith) works and owns a cozy bookshop. There, he meets an NYU Ph.D. student, Sandra (Briana Middleton), and the flirtations start quickly. They go out for dinner and capture the audience instantly with their charm. They have intimate conversations about depression, loss, and their love of literature and Fellini. What follows a makeout session over a first edition of Jane Eyre is a compilation of their blossoming romance. It’s a great way to have the audience drop their guard and make what’s to come seem even more unexpected. As much as you can’t help but get swept up with this couple, it’s clear that something isn’t right. Sandra confesses that her brother is deep in debt with some dangerous people and is afraid he won’t get the money he needs before whoever these people are take more violent, deadly means to get what they want. Tom reveals that he comes from money and is happy to give her whatever she needs. But when he does, she disappears.

The film is divided into parts, allowing the story to be seen from the perspective of each character and intertwining them in the script’s intricately woven web of deceit. We get the fullest picture of Sandra in regard to who she was before she met Tom, what happens to her after her disappearance, and who she meets along the way that shapes her story. There’s so much to admire in Middleton’s performance as it feels like she’s playing two completely different people. The successful Ph.D. student is there one minute and then replaced by a woman on parole whose struggling with drug addiction. It’s a stark contrast and a transformation that does feel to happen a bit too quickly to have a deeper emotional impact, but Middleton proves in every scene that this is her movie.

Even when she shares the screen with Sebastian Stan or Julianne Moore, she still reels us in with how she can embody both immense power and confidence to defeat and vulnerability. Stan plays Max, a mysterious character who can be both alluring and brooding. He plays a man who by throwing an eight-thousand-dollar Rollex on a table is able to get Sandra out of a jam and woo her into a con to end all cons. He turns her into someone who is able to harness her sexuality to get what she wants. She becomes sharp, confident, and capable of adapting to any situation in a way that makes this partnership exhilarating while it lasts. They are a couple of hot swindlers and the chemistry and tension between the pair could cut like a knife. However, as they begin to work together, it becomes apparent that Max’s entire persona is all an act. The entire story, in fact, is one extensive acting exercise with every character playing a specific part as a means to an end. Moore as Madeline, carrying power, sophistication, and cleverness in her part, has her role to play too, and so does John Lithgow as Richard, but to say more about the narrative itself and who these characters are would hamper the impact of this big guessing game.

Sharper knows how to build intrigue and how to keep it steady throughout. This is built mainly thanks to how it hits the viewer with twist after twist, and where separating fact from fiction becomes a puzzle you desperately want to complete. It’s thrilling in that way, and as you dive deeper and deeper into the crevices of this story and try to read between the lines you wonder when its tightly wound web will finally snap. As the film comes full circle in a karma-ass-kicking way, the film both satisfies but also falls short. Everyone is a pawn in the con, even those who seem to be the mastermind. There’s always someone else pulling the strings, and it’s satisfying to see who really holds the cards in the end, but the third act almost falls apart and loses its slick storytelling.

While it does manage to pull itself back up to end on a strong note, there’s a lingering question of “Y tho?”. Minus Tom and Sandra, we don’t learn very much about the other characters to solidify why the events in the film happen in the first place. People chasing wealth simply out of greed or a power trip seems too simple of an answer, especially in how complex the operation is. Still, there’s much to admire about a high-stakes game that both sees terrible people get what they deserve and keeps us guessing until the very end.