AppleTV+’s new film Sharper is a twisty thriller from director Benjamin Caron. Read our review.
There is an art to making a good thriller. You need to create morally ambiguous, but interesting characters, a tense plot that defies expectations and a couple of good twists, ones you can’t see coming.
Benjamin Caron’s Sharper, AppleTV+’s newest film, does a half-decent job at almost all of the above. While the characters are all intriguing and there are twists galore, the film never manages to provide a single surprise.
The film is divided into several chapters, all of them told (or seen) from a different character’s perspective. We start off with Tom (Justice Smith), the son of a billionaire who falls in love with Sandra (Briana Middleton), but finds himself tangled in a strange web of lies and deception.
We also observe events through the eyes of Sandra as well as Sebastian Stan’s Max and Julianne Moore’s Madeline. To reveal how all characters are connected would be to ruin the film’s fun. There is plenty to enjoy with Sharper, but its puzzle of a narrative seems a little obvious and its twists are tedious and predictable.
What mostly carries Sharper is the phenomenal cast. Justice Smith, an underrated actor, brings a lot of warmth to a character that seems very broadly written. Tom owns a modest bookshop but has no other defining qualities or personality.
Similarly, Middleton manages to turn a character that could have felt hollow and false into a fully-fleshed out character. Julianne Moore seems to be on auto-pilot here, never quite reaching the heights of her best performances. But then again, when you’re Julianne Moore, even your auto-pilot mode is better than most actors’ best performances.
Sebastian Stan is helplessly overshadowed by the better actors around him. It’s hard to say if it’s Stan’s acting capabilities or just the writing that reduces his character into a silly caricature. It seems that Stan’s Max has exactly three moods; shouty or moody. He’s dreadfully unlikeable and the script, written by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, doesn’t really ever dig deeper into who he is underneath all that unpleasantness.
The film also has a slight issue with pacing and the overall form of the narrative. The story isn’t told in a linear-fashion and as every chapter ends and another one begins, it’s almost like it all resets and you have to get ready to take in more information rather than follow a linear, cohesive narrative. It creates a strange start-stop effect which proves exhausting in the nearly two-hour runtime.
Lines between who’s the hero and villain, protagonist and antagonist, are constantly blurred but unfortunately, none of the characters are particularly nice. They’re all objectively pretty shitty people, making it hard to care for them. Additionally, all their motives are related to money, which just isn’t very exciting.
Sharper looks the part; the visuals are sleek and everything in the film looks appropriately expensive, but Clint Mansell’s score doesn’t have quite the same sense of subtlety. There is still much to enjoy about Sharper. It’s fascinatingly old-fashioned and Moore is the standout here, but on the whole, Sharper doesn’t fulfill its potential.
Sharper is in cinemas and on AppleTV+ 17 February.