By George Bate
It’s quite a while into Sharper, a new psychological thriller from A24 and Apple TV+, until the overarching plot can be grasped. The film starts with the title card ‘Tom,’ proceeding to tell the quaint love story of a young bookshop employee named Tom (played by Justice Thomas) and a Ph.D. student named Sandra (played by Briana Middleton). Where the film eventually goes from its humble, romantic beginnings is unexpected – a story that integrates the lives of various characters in a sprawling tale of deception and intrigue in New York City.
Sharper comes from director Benjamin Caron, who most recently helmed three episodes of the Star Wars series Andor, and a script by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka. And it’s a testament to the strength of Gatewood and Tanaka’s screenplay that Sharper is unrelentingly entertaining and unpredictable from start to finish. Sharper is broken into largely non-linear vignettes focused on different characters, played by Sebastian Stan and Julianne Moore amongst others. Each vignette unfolds like its own short film, with a distinct lead character and plot. With each successive vignette, the narrative becomes increasingly clearer (we withheld from using the word ‘sharper’) until all of the different plot threads connect and come into focus. The filmmakers employ a storytelling device that could easily get out of hand and descend into a convoluted mess, but a solid script and steady direction prevent this from ever happening. It’s an intelligent yet approachable film, with plenty of deception and twists and turns. Fans of the little known crime movie Criminal starring John C. Reilly and Diego Luna will notice similarities. While more could be revealed about what the plot entails, Sharper is best experienced knowing as little as possible heading into it (think of last year’s Barbarian, but a psychological thriller rather than a horror flick).
Given its unique structure, Sharper doesn’t have a single lead character per se, instead fluctuating from one protagonist to the next. The likes of Justice Thomas, Sebastian Stan, and Julianne Moore all deliver, but it’s Briana Middleton that shines amongst the cast. Middleton’s character arc is the most interesting in the film, and provides plenty of opportunities for the young actress to display her impress range.
Sharper is a movie more interested in plot than the emotions of its characters, for better or worse. There are certainly emotional themes and topics explored, although it’s never enough to constitute true emotional investment. This issue is relatively easy to overlook, however, as the twists and turns of the ever-changing narrative are more than enough to retain interest.
These twists and turns, while proving to be the film’s shining quality, eventually become a little too much by the film’s conclusion. With one twist too many, Sharper loses momentum with an ending that lacks the impact of many of the film’s precious twists.
Sharper’s endless twists and turns make for an exciting psychological thriller that remains unpredictable from scene to scene. Full of deception and intrigue, the film employs a unique narrative structure that highlights its impressive ensemble cast with a fluctuating array of lead characters. Although it lacks true emotional investment and suffers from one twist too many, Sharper excels as an unpredictable thriller that never ceases to entertain.
Sharper is streaming February 17 on Apple TV+.