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Sharper forces you to pay attention-Part 1

"How can you do what you do?" "Practice."

By 'Vive AkughaPublished 6 days ago Updated 6 days ago 14 min read
Image credit: Screenshot from Apple TV on YouTube

The main cast of Sharper includes Justice Smith, Briana Middleton, Sebastian Stan, and Julianne Moore. This is a 2023 Apple Tv+ movie. We are introduced into the movie with the definition of Sharper as, "One who lives by their wits" which is a hustler, essentially. The trailer asks 'Can you read between the lies?' as we go on the journey of connecting the truth and timelines. We are thrown into the movie and carried on through different perspectives.

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[…]-these are my thoughts while watching the movie


Tom (Justice Smith) is a bookstore manager and meets Sandra (Briana Middleton), a student getting her Ph.D. when she comes in to buy a book for her professor. Tom is interested in going on a date with her but she declines and says she likes being single. Unfortunately, her card declines her purchase but Tom allows her to take the book saying she could pay him later. She comes back at the end of the day to pay him and accepts his previous date offer.

Image credit: Screenshot from Apple TV on YouTube

[If he's psychotic, that would just be hilarious because Joe from You was also a bookstore manager and psychotic. Joe also sold rare books and enclosed them in a clear box for preservation. I kept seeing these comparisons as I questioned everything and everyone. Tom did not have the manipulation and murder (as it seems) but the occupation of the character. Joe never wrote though and was sort of forced into enjoying books but Tom genuinely does.]

During their date, we learn more about both of them. Tom said his mother died around the time he wrote a novel which was so bad, they didn't want to publish it and he gave up writing. He always loved books and loves being surrounded by books all day. Sandra said both of her parents died when she was a kid. She and her brother stayed with various foster families. A couple they stayed with for a bit had a collection of novels which she read and a character in the Jane Eyre book went through the same things she did. She didn't want it to end and it fueled her love for books. They start dating as we see in a montage [They're adorable].

Image credit: Screenshot from Apple TV on YouTube

Everything is blissful and they confess their feelings for each other. [Tell me why I'm scared for her with each moment and literally holding my breath waiting for the bad thing to happen.] As Tom sleeps over at Sandra's, his sleep is cut short but someone angrily banging on the door. [1st person angrily banging on the door] Her brother, Jason needed money and showed up begging. After acknowledging he's all she has, she tells Tom, "No matter how many times he screws me over, I can't not help him. He's my brother. I love him.".

It's Tom's birthday and they have been dating for a few weeks now gushing about each other to his friends(unnamed). However, according to IMDB, they are Brenda (Hannah Dunne) and Jack (Giullian Yao Gioiello). He said she was incredible and Jack said she was his dream girl. [Ohh, she morphed into who he thought would be perfect to give him a false sense of reality] Brenda talks to Sandra outside the bookstore to avoid the chatter of his birthday party. Apparently, they graduated as undergraduates from the same school, Vassar. To bond, Brenda asks what year Sandra graduated and asked her if she hung out at the popular place many students did called The Mug. This scene immediately reminded me of Mike Ross from Suits as he lied about attending Harvard and had to avoid or use his prepared answers to avoid being caught.

Jack expresses his joy seeing Tom doing better now. Tom said, "Okay. It got bad but, you know, it's like, who hasn't been borderline suicidal at some point in their life?" but Jack stops him saying, "It's not funny. You're not supposed to joke about that stuff. Come on. Come on.". This is so necessary because despite the fact that comedy is many people's coping mechanism, a lot of people joke about their situations almost in an attempt to belittle a very serious issue or condition as people online and offline do. It's not healthy because you might still not be better or healing as needed. However, Tom agrees and says, "Okay, you're right. But I'm good now. You know, like, I'm great, actually.".

Sandra questions him about them always going to her place and says she hasn't even seen his place. He says things are uncomfortable at home because his dad is sick, thinks he's a disappointment and re-married. After a bit, he shows up at her place worried. Her door was open and she didn't answer him all day. She tells him that her brother owes some shifty people money ($350,000), he was beaten with a promise of worse and she doesn't know what to do. After joking about robbing a bank, he says he'll give her his dad's money. He says he has a hedge fund and it's not like his dad earned his money in some noble way. He makes it known even more that he is wealthy as he confesses that he owns the bookstore actually.

Image credit: Screenshot from Apple TV on YouTube

She says he should have told her but they're practically strangers so she can't take his money. He is upset by that as he felt she was the best thing that happened to him and said she could take the money. This is similar to their first interaction and reminds me of plans in heist movies when they have to play the long game in certain instances. The first time, her card was not working after he asked her on a date and she (as a student buying a gift for her professor) was looking for cash to pay for it but he told her to just take it. She said she'll be back soon with the money and came back later that day with it, this shocked him. She was sowing the seeds of trust. She also promises to pay him back for the $350,000 he gave her to pay off the goons he can't see.

[Who's playing who? Is he a target? Maybe she asked a friend to do that whole banging on the door thing especially since we have not SEEN this brother she has. He was depressed really badly and said she's the best thing that ever happened to him, so she's leveraging off that? She's like his anchor it seems.]

Before she heads off to pay the goons, they hug and he says he loves her but she says she's so sorry about all this. [Hah! I knew this was a farewell thing] He spent a while at the Japanese restaurant she said they could meet at later that day but she did not show up. He runs to her apartment to see if she'll alright but no answer as he keeps banging on her door[2nd person angrily banging on the door].


We are re-introduced to Sandra but she is different here. She goes by 'Sandy', seems to be troubled and is not as put together. It is revealed that she is on parole and takes drugs. Her parole officer, Larusso (Kerry Flanagan)does not seem to take to her kindly. She confronts her on all she'd done and not done to fulfill her parole requirements. Sandy tries to bribe her with some money she had which is her third strike and could guarantee her arrest. The first is not having a job anymore and the second is using drugs. During her bribery as an attempted trap, Sandra is saved by Max (Sebastian Stan) who says he's seen Larusso shaking down parolees all night but will pay her to leave. He gathers $447 and adds his Rolex submariner watch to give her but she does not accept it saying he's drunk as she tries to access the situation. He leaves the pub they're at but she follows him saying they should talk. She says she has a wife and kids to feed before saying, "…and this one has it coming because she is a fuck-up." referring to how bad she thinks Sandra is.

Image credit: Screenshot from Apple TV on YouTube

[Omg, is this a compiled story of everyone having a come-up over every other person?] Larusso wanted $5,000 from Max but he refused. She lets him know she's sized him up from his appearance, his watch and the car he drives. She ends up striking a deal for his $8,000 + (or less) watch and says she would give him the change. He gives her the watch and she leaves him behind with Sandra. He gets another watch out of the glove compartment that is identical to the last one informing Sandra that the one he gave the parole officer was fake. He tells Sandra to get in the car for her cut of $1,000. [Hmm, so this is something he regularly does]. She gets in, he drives her to a place.

[Sebastian played a sinister role lately, so seeing him here just affirmed what type of movie I thought this was going to be.] He tells her to remove her clothes and shoes to see if he can trust her which she does reluctantly. She is desperate and needs a place to stay but has to work for him. The next day, they seemingly bond over movies but she is immediately shown his purpose of hiring her to give an impression of being someone else. He said he will train her about everything so she can lie about everything and be 100% convincing. She asks his name which he reveals and he changes her common name from Sandy to Sandra.

Despite saying she's not a junkie the day before, she uses and is thrown out by Max. She bangs on the door begging for forgiveness saying she won't use it anymore [3rd person angrily banging on the door]. He accepts her and stresses that he needs her clean. We see her clean (substance-wise and physically), learning the quote and learning the other aspects of her fake life that she told Tom about [Wow, people are scary]. During the training montage, she tries to bond with Max. She asked if she was the first girl he's done this with, why he picked her and asked about his mother after telling him about her's. His answers were-Yes, he saw something in her, and he hates his mother.

Image credit: Screenshot from Apple TV on YouTube

Later on, he takes her out to celebrate her progress and his birthday but really used it as an opportunity to test-run her training[I love this look for her]. He gave her 40 minutes to get a guy at the bar to take her back to his room. She was disgusted and disappointed. The helplessness and desperation are often constants in these kinds of movies. In Ava, Ava felt indebted to Duke for saving her. He was her mentor and father figure. He got her clean and active but she hated what she did. In Focus, Jess actually asked for training from Nicky but Sandra is being thrown into this from the moment he saved her from the dishonest parole officer.

[It's so sad because even I knew that she wasn't going to dress up for an outing at a high-class place with this man she's working for, just for a regular night out. A lot of these dynamics have a bond and others don't (or well, not at this point).] William (Quincy Dunn-Baker), from the bar, gets her up to his room. Nothing happens because they are interrupted by a disgruntled Max. Max bangs on the door of the room she's in [3rd person angrily banging on the door]. He comes in with the old boyfriend act [also used in Focus, well, husband act but whatever.] using the name 'Jason' as was used for her supposed brother[Oh, it's a throwaway name? Like the one they would use for any role? hmm]. His anger and her begging get William to leave his hotel room [great performance all around]. She was so excited she did well and he praised her.

Image credit: Screenshot from Apple TV on YouTube

They go through his things and discover William is married. Sandra felt remorseful saying they set him up to cheat but Max quickly told her not to feel sorry for William and the other victims. He said, "You can't cheat an honest man, right? That's why we never feel sorry for the mark.". Ava apologized and often tried to find out what the victims did to become targets but some tricksters or assassins like Llyod from The Grayman enjoy the power with no apologies or need for a reason. William was cheating on his wife but got her diamond earrings to make up for it. This man took the diamond earrings, put them on Sandra and complimented her [Hahaha].

[The movie is happening backwards as we see all that happened before seeing what led to that through different perspectives. I thought we might see the planning for Tom but I guess he was not a special case and just one of the marks. I wonder if she moved that day Tom came banging or if she just didn't open the door. This is such a good movie so far. These types are frequently made into series these days but it's going well.]


Image credit: Screenshot from Apple TV on YouTube

We find out more about Max as we follow him to visit his mother. Apple takes a moment to shamelessly advertise the AirPods Pro. He enters the apartment from the elevator and notices there's an event being held. He walks in looking around, although with the noise cancellation feature and his music playing, he doesn't hear the music or the housekeeper (Tracey Ilgner) trying to get his attention. Going to look for his mother, we see the source of the music. They got the recent two-time Grammy award-winning Jazz singer, Samara Joy to perform live. She won two 2023 Grammy's for Best New Artist and Best Jazz Vocal Album for her 2022 album Linger Awhile. [They got Samara?! Yes!! I am utterly shocked his real name is Max, what?! I thought he lied to Sandra, to be honest. ]

Richard (John Lithgow)is his mother's boyfriend and he's not happy about that. He doesn't trust Richard (claiming he doesn't know anything about him) or his mum to stay by herself. His mother asks about his girlfriend that was supposed to come with him but he said she's seeing someone else and wants to stay with them. Max used drugs which his mother asks about but he claims he hasn't used them in a year before shouting at her and urinating in a bottle for a test. He hurts her emotionally and she cries asking why he does this to her. He repeatedly apologizes and says he still needs a place to stay. She allows him to but says he can't stay for very long. He thanks her and says he loves her before leaving.

Image credit: Screenshot from Apple TV on YouTube

As he leaves, he asks Richard by the door outside if he enjoyed the show [oh! because it was a show! hmm]. Richard consoles her as she cries about giving in to Max's ways. In the morning, Richard talks to Max's mum trying to understand Max's waywardness that keeps hurting her. Richard is trying to encourage her to make Max independent by not being there every single time as he asks questions including what he does and if he has money. She blames herself saying Max is not an adult because he's always been her little Max. Max overhears and interrupts their discussion. She asks him if they could meet at lunch to bond and he accepts. After she leaves the dinner table, Max takes the opportunity to apologize to Richard. They seemingly come to an understanding with each other despite Richard's declined offer to attend the benefit they have later that day with them.

As they return from the event, the housekeeper informs them of Max being arrested in Richard's apartment. Max was caught trying to buy drugs from an undercover officer and is arrested there, which is what his mother did not want. [What he saw in Sandra was himself? Huh. The cursing, The drugs and the prior offences are similarities.]. All this happened after Richard tells her he wants her all to himself in the elevator but she pleads with Richard to help prevent Max's arrest.

I have written about the last parts of the movie in my Sharper forces you to pay attention-Part 2 article.

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About the Creator

'Vive Akugha

I write on various things: social issues, well-being, cinema and out of curiosity. For contact and all other things, click this. Inactive.

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