Sharper (Crime, Drama. Thriller) (2023)
Director: Benjamin Caron
Writer: Brian Gatewood, Alessandro Tanaka
Stars: Justice Smith, Briana Middleton, Sebastian Stan, Julianne Moore
The lives of several people intertwine as an intricate web weaves itself between past, present and future, telling an elaborate scheme of crime, manipulation and fraud.
While Benjamin Caron's name might sound unfamiliar, his work includes being an Executive Producer and Director for TV shows like "The Crown", Star Wars’ "Andor", and even an episode of the BBC's "Sherlock", even receiving several awards for some of these. This feature film returns to thrillers, as they used-to-be, presented with grounded drama and mild complexity. Being filmed in New York City, it was produced by A24, Picturestart, FortySixty, G&T Productions, as well as Apple Studios, who distributed it with A24 as an Apple TV+ Original.
When Tom (Justice Smith) meets whom he feels to be the love of his life; Sandra (Briana Middleton), life seems a dream, soon to be shattered by reality. As their relationship flourishes, her brother, supposedly a drug addict, interrupts, and Sandra opens up about a debt he owes. Blinded by love, Tom "borrows" a large sum of money from his father's hedge fund, eventually left ghosted and heartbroken trying to discover what happened and why.
Presented non-linearly, multiple characters feature in this thriller of yore. Shifting the attention between them, each act furthers the gradual story like a tapestry. Interestingly, while not too complex, "Sharper" is something we haven't seen in a while.
Divided, yet whole—Caron's film centres around deplorable human nature, attempting something complex in a fairly clinical approach. Specific visuals provide almost a more tightly-budgeted feature, with the narrative overturning this notion. Structured in character arcs like chapters is an in-flexible yet coherent way of bringing everything together eventually, each part ending with the unravelling of a character or confrontation.
It's not difficult to understand the slick motion picture in "Sharper", yet that's intentionally so. Keenly, it presents and develops the players within this manipulative narrative. Segments, such as Sandra's arc, reverse time to her past, yet these chronological breaches never distract from a straightforward thriller. Highest-profile names are Sebastian Stan and Julianne Moore, who both engross the audience most; Stan's Max shatters pre-conceived notions and essentially becomes the most chaotic character in the entire flick, with Moore's Madeline able to surprise even more after that leading to a compulsory redemptive conclusion.
Taking a mirror, wrapping it up in a bag, and smashing it to pieces, "Sharper" feels like a well-contained jumble of shards. Performances fit and develop coherently, always lifting the next hint or showing the next surprise. There isn't too much to unravel, but there's good fun in seeing it develop.
It could've been sharper.