Benjamin Caron’s Sharper is an engaging and twisty drama that loses some steam by the end but nevertheless remains a fun time.
In a city where the buildings climb higher and higher, it’s easy to feel small. As the rain crashes down on New York City, our secrets begin to show themselves. The secrets of who we really are or even where our money comes from. Benjamin Caron’s Sharper is a story of deceit, lies, and our own orchestration of human life.
Sharper follows Tom (Justice Smith), who manages a bookstore. One day, he meets Sandra (Briana Middleton) and a relationship quickly begins to form. However, it becomes clear that there may be more to Sandra’s story than she lets on. From here, we see a story featuring the perspectives of multiple con artists and their connections to a wealthy family. As a web of lies begins to show itself, lives become endangered and the game of deceit begins to take its toll.
From the start, we see Sharper take a particular interest in our human desire to barter and trade. Tom exchanges dinner at a Chinese restaurant for a potential romantic relationship with Sandra. In another scene, Max (Sebastian Stan) exchanges money and a watch with a parole officer in exchange for someone’s freedom on Christmas Eve. Although these are two different things from two people on opposite sides of class, those human instincts to trade are still present and accounted for. As we trade pieces of ourselves for something in return, we take part in a game of sorts. A game that requires strategy and perhaps even a little bit of deception.
Another keen interest Sharper has is how far one will go in the pursuit of money. Tom has a wealthy father but, at first glance, he’s simply a man who runs a quiet bookshop and lives a regular life. He’s not the first target of the film’s larger con but he’s arguably the most crucial. His interaction and meeting with Sandra is the heart of Sharper and where everything connects back to. What happens before and after revolves around their relationship and to some extent, their reliability on the same level of class. Tom may be in a wealthy family but his access to that wealth is limited. Sandra is brought into a world where her giving nature has to be twisted to take and deceive, something that becomes the biggest weapon in Sharper’s narrative.
Sharper does a particularly strong job of creating an engaging novelistic narrative structure with its use of chapters that delve into each of its characters. In a way, the film constructs itself like a jigsaw puzzle, with each piece adding more to the grander picture. Each chapter of Sharper adds previous context to earlier scenes which leads to an immediately confident film that mostly does a successful job of dishing out interesting narrative developments consistently. The cast here all give strong performances but the star of the show here is easily Briana Middleton as Sandra. As a newcomer, she instantly enters the screen with a ton of charm and charisma that only excels as more of her character is revealed to us.
At times, Sharper may confuse those watching and although it does end with an overly twisty finish, it mostly succeeds at balancing a tense game of mystery and who’s deceiving who. However, The film does suffer from some storytelling problems in the final stretch. Its twisty nature is a ton of fun to watch unfold but as we enter the third act, it begins to border on the silly side as its tricks become increasingly nonsensical. This isn’t catastrophic overall but it does make what was otherwise a playfully simple tale of greed and deception overly complicated.
Sharper suffers from trying to complicate its narrative too much during the end stretch, but what’s here is an engaging drama with strong performances and a particularly strong eye for visuals. Briana Middleton showcases how she is on track for a bright future and the constant guessing game of who is deceiving who is a ton of fun to watch unfold. It doesn’t quite end as strongly as it could’ve but as a whole, it’s a fun and simple film that excels at being an excitingly twisty narrative.
Sharper will be released in select US theaters on February 10 and globally on Apple TV+ on February 17, 2023.