Sharper is streaming now on Apple TV+
The art of the con movie is something that’s fallen out of fashion over the last decade – where once there was Matchstick Men, Catch Me If You Can, and Ocean’s Eleven, now there are a swarm of Netflix true crime ‘docs’ that feel more like over-extended news reports. Folks are still getting tricked all the time, people! Just look at Sam Bankman-Fried, perhaps a modern-day Bernie Madoff dressed in basement nerd chic. Fortunately, Benjamin Caron seems to remember the art of the con, and Sharper plays us all for rubes just as you’d hope it would.
Justice Smith’s sweetly dim Tom owns a bookstore and soon becomes infatuated with Sandra, played by the sparky Brianna Middleton. The two hit it off immediately, and before you know it, we montage through some darling dates and steamy soirees. There’s one problem – Sandra is plagued by her brother, who is desperate for $350,000, or those after him will kill him. I’m sure you can see the red flags, but Tom’s blinded by love and willingly gives up the cash – and just like that, Sandra disappears, and Tom realises he’s been conned.
From the get-go, Benjamin Caron tells us, “don’t take anything at face value” as we delve into his halogen-lit New York City, only to land in a dingy dive bar beneath a railway bridge. Caron is able to fetishise New York City as this sleek, seductive landscape whilst also exposing its ugly underbelly, painting it in a different light from the usual film outings. He sets up the iconic city as a strange cold land, hostile to all those who don’t learn how to use it. It’s an impressive effort from the director, who crafts meaning into every shot as he plays with the people who inhabit these spaces.
One of the greatest gifts we’ve received in the last few years is Sebastian Stan realising just how damn good he is at being a villain. In Sharper, he turns total American Psycho as the slithery con master Max. Max never truly feels human but instead adopts different human-like masks to suit individual situations. He takes the troubled Sandra under his wing and coaches her in the art of deception, giving us an insight into just how manufactured the Sandra we meet initially is. Of course, Sandra is just a mere pawn in Max’s Manhatten-wide game. It’s clear that Caron is playing his own game with writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka’s material, which is admittedly slightly predictable, but the way in which Caron shifts and morphs it allows for some true jaw-dropping revelations that both fascinate and disturb.
What’s clear is that Max’s endgame involves John Lithgow’s Richard and Julianne Moore’s Madeline, a power couple in New York City’s upper echelon. It’s here where Sharper truly unravels into a delicious slice of power play and double-cross, as Sebastian Stan and Julianne Moore face off against one another, two titans of treachery attempting to out-manoeuvre the other. Their knotty confrontations create white-hot sparks of chemistry, with Julianne Moore dazzling as the student-turned-master con-woman.
As with any great con movie, it eventually comes down to the triple-and-quadruple cross, with unexpected parties wading into the murky criminal waters that Caron has flooded the city with. And what an enthralling watch it is! It’s impressive that this is somehow Caron’s feature film debut; his confidence and intelligence in adapting what could’ve been a simple crime movie into something that harks back to the ’90s erotic thriller and ’00s ensemble caper should be applauded. Sharper proves that truly great genres never go away – they just need the right person to bring them back.
SLOW HORSES – SEASON TWO
United States | 1hr 56min | 2023
As with any great con movie, Sharper eventually comes down to the triple-and-quadruple cross, with unexpected parties wading into the murky criminal waters that Caron has flooded the city with. And what an enthralling watch it is! It’s impressive that this is somehow Caron’s feature film debut; his confidence and intelligence in adapting what could’ve been a simple crime movie into something that harks back to the ’90s erotic thriller and ’00s ensemble caper should be applauded.