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Review of 'Sharper'

Scams Cubed

By Paul LevinsonPublished 23 days ago 3 min read

This seems to be a season for non-linear neo-noir caper thrillers set in the New York City area. A few months ago, Kaleidoscope appeared on Netflix (here's my review on Vocal), which was so linear you were invited to watch the episodes of that series in any order you chose. Sharper, which debuted on Apple TV+ a week or so ago, is a movie, not a TV series, so you can't really choose the order of the parts you watch. But the parts are equally non-linear, and the story every bit as captivating.

[Some spoilers ahead ... ]

This time, we're treated to scam artists not bank robbers. But given that the object of the scam is a billionaire, the money in Sharper is even bigger than the object of the heist in Kaleidoscope. And the complex, multi-layered story is just as much a pleasure to watch unfold.

I'll tell just you part of it: Tom works in a bookstore in the Village (we find out a little later that he owns the bookstore, and in a still later segment that that's because his father is a billionaire). He meets and starts falling in love with Sandra, a student at New York University (my double alma mater), who of course has a dissolute brother who desperately needs money -- some $350,000. Tom is able to give her that money (astonishingly, at that point) -- against Sandra's (faux) protests -- after which she disappears, not showing up at the Japanese restaurant (my favorite cuisine) at which they first dined, on the very night they met, after she first walked into the bookstore. Thus ends the first of what turns out to be a series of escalating, interconnected scams. Here let me say that Justice Smith as Tom was good, and Briana Middleton as Sandra was major-league superb. This is the first time I've seen either on the screen. I'd say both have great careers ahead.

And this part of the narrative, as I said, is also just the first of the scams. Julianne Moore plays Madeline, the billionaire's wife, and a master scammer herself. John Lithgow plays the billionaire, and, unless I missed something, pretty much the only person in this narrative who is not a deft scammer. It's always good to see both of these two on the screen. And especially so in the same movie. (I read somewhere that Lithgow may be back again as the Trinity Killer in one or more of the Dexter spin-offs that are percolating on Paramount/Showtime, and it was fine indeed to see him as Winston Churchill in the early seasons of The Crown.) And Sebastian Stan, in addition to having a memorable name, also puts in a memorable performance as Max, who, well, is and isn't what he seems to be, but mostly is.

Now, on the rare chance that you couldn't help yourself and you've read this far and haven't seen Sharper, I'm not going to tell you much about the ending, except that it's satisfying and everyone gets their just deserts. (With those scenes in the Japanese restaurant, I almost said just desserts. Mine is mochi ice cream.) Put Sharper in the category of excellent narratives that begin in bookstores -- the Lifetime now Netflix series You would be another example -- which gives Sharper double creds as both a bookstore and a non-linear neo crime story. Either one would be more than enough for me to see it, and just for good measure Sharper has some sharp acting. Big creds to writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, and director Benjamin Caron.

movie review

About the Creator

Paul Levinson

Novels include The Silk Code & The Plot To Save Socrates; LPs Twice Upon A Rhyme & Welcome Up; nonfiction includes The Soft Edge & Digital McLuhan, translated into 15 languages. Details here. My Twitter. Prof, Fordham Univ.

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