There has been no shortage of excellent thrillers in recent years, so each time a new one is releasing, it is almost like being a kid in a candy store with too many options. How can one filter out the rotted garbage from the premium goods? Certainly, any film boasting an ensemble cast this impressive is already worthy of attention. Film legends multiple Emmy-winner John Lithgow and Oscar-winner Julianne Moore join an adorable new favorite, Justice Smith, Emmy nominee Sebastian Stan, and relative newcomer Briana Middleton—all contribute greatly to a twisty script that is as fun as it is meticulously structured. Layer by layer, the plot unravels as new character perspectives shed light on shocking truths. Scripted by The Sitter’s Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, Sharper cuts deep in its depiction of manipulations, and conniving money-hungry con-artists.
Sharper is uniquely structured in that it carefully unlocks keys facts as it progresses, meaning there will probably be a very high rewatch value. These are my favorite type of mystery/thriller movies, wherein the answers are actually sitting there in front of you all along. Title cards accompany each change in points of view. The film first focuses on Tom (Justice Smith, Detective Pikachu, The Voyeurs), a young bookstore manager who is suddenly smitten with a customer, Sandra (Briana Middleton), who has very good taste in books. Tom has a complicated relationship with his wealthy father, Richard (John Lithgow, Dexter, 3rd Rock from the Sun), one that forces he and Sandra to constantly hang out at her place instead of his. Their unexpected romance blossoms from a first date at a romantic Japanese restaurant, and soon enough they are already proclaiming love to one another. In a separate but related development, Richard’s new wife, Madeline (Julianne Moore, Carrie, Hannibal) and her troubled son, Max (Sebastian Stan, Fresh, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), are a package deal. As Richard is forced to contend with Max, Madeline may be hiding secrets of her own. In the conniving world of Sharper, nothing is off limits.
Sharper begins with a definition of the word—“one who lives by their wits”—that ends up being an apt descriptor of the complexities we are about to see unfold. Other than Tom, each person around his orbit seems to have ulterior motives. The movie zig-zags about in time, showing us key perspectives from Sandra, Max, and Madeline, and unlocking more of the story in the process. Sharper is less a giant puzzle than a peeling onion. Simply drawing back the layers proves to shock and surprise, but it is not until the finale that a major twist occurs. A giant confrontation that weaves together every timeline and story breaks out in a shocking moment. Just when it seems the dust is about to settle, a movie-changing ending recontextualizes all of it.
As stated before, the casting really helps to sell the material. Justice Smith’s Tom is the sweet anchor of the movie, and Middleton’s Sandra makes waves for the relationship that hatches between the two. Julianne Moore, who also produces, plays a vital role. Though Sebastian Stan’s Max is not as prominent as other characters, he still has a blast, albeit in a slightly more reserved way. Maybe I just have a soft spot for seeing Stan outrageously dance to music—unlike in Fresh, Max isn’t slicing up human flesh during his bar dance to “Dirt Laundry.”
Sharper is impressive in that it is able to hide many of its secrets, utilizing each character when absolutely necessary. Certain ones may be underused a bit, but the core group flourishes as the film progresses. Director Benjamin Caron, who has worked on multiple episodes of two of my all-time favorite television drama, Skins and My Mad Fat Diary, was the perfect choice for this Apple/A24 collaboration. Lovers of thrillers and windy films that keep one guessing will have a blast trying to pick Sharper apart before it reaches the climax.
Try to outsmart the Sharper when the film debuts in select theaters on Friday, February 10th, then exclusively to Apple TV+ on February 17th.