Sharper (2023) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Predictable step by step

“Sharper”, which was released on Apple TV+ a few months ago, assumes that its audiences have not seen many thriller flicks, and that is not a very sharp assumption to say the least. If you saw its trailer or its promotional poster, I am sure that you already have a pretty good idea about how it will handle its story and characters, and I can only tell you that it does not have much surprise in that.

Because the movie is driven by a lot of deceptions and manipulations among its several main characters, I may unintentionally reveal some of its sudden plot turns in the following paragraphs of this review, so I strongly advise to you that you should not read further if you are already determined to check out the movie and want to get entertained as much as you can. To be frank with you, when I was watching the film during last evening, my mind kept working on how to write about its story and characters as less as possible, and I must tell you that was more stimulating that the movie itself.

Anyway, let’s start with the seemingly innocuous opening part of the film, which revolves around Tom (Justice Smith), a shy and quiet lad who has worked alone in a little bookstore located somewhere in the middle of New York City. On one day, a pretty young woman named Sandra (Brianna Middleton) enters Tom’s bookstore, and it does not take much time for Tom to be attracted to this young woman as they interact with each other for a while. When he shows a little generosity to her, she shows some appreciation in response later, and they come to spend more time with each other.

Yes, this looks like your average Meet Cute situation, and we are served with some nice romantic moments between Tom and Sandra, but, of course, things soon become very serious. After seeing how much Sandra struggles with a certain big personal problem of hers, Tom is willing to help her just because she really brightens up his melancholic life. After losing his mother some years ago, he has been quite lonely and depressed, and he has not interacted much with his father Richard (John Lithgow), who has been more estranged from his son since he recently married some other woman.

Now, if you are still with me, you may easily guess what will happen next. Yes, Sandra and Tom’s romantic relationship is not accidental at all from the very beginning. Yes, there is an insidious plot against Tom because he happens to be standing on the way for certain criminal figures behind the plot. Yes, these people are certainly quite untrustworthy in one way or another, and we accordingly should keep guessing whatever they are respectively holding behind their backs before the movie arrives at its ending.

We are supposed to have lots of fun and thrill with that, but we can instantly see through the plot mechanism of the screenplay by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka because it gives itself away too much in my humble opinion. For instance, it has Julianne Moore at the very center of its promotional poster, so you will promptly discern that her character will be a definite crucial part of the story, even before her character eventually appears in the middle of the movie. I will not go into details on the relationship between her character and another substantial character in the story played by Sebastian Stan, but it will take less than one minute for you to guess who they actually are as well as what they are planning to do.

At least, Moore, who also participated in the production of the film, and Stan are clearly enjoying a number of juicy moments assigned to them. Because their characters often cannot wholly trust each other, there is always considerable tension between them on the screen, and Moore and Stan deftly handle several key scenes where their characters supposedly show more of their feelings to each other in private.

The rest of the main cast members are more or less than mere plot elements, though some of them acquit themselves fairly well on the whole. Briana Middleton, a young promising actress who previously appeared in George Clooney’s “The Tender Bar” (2021), holds her own place well among her more well-known cast members, and she is particularly good when she has to convey to us her character’s conflicted status later in the story. On the opposite, Justice Smith, an equally promising actor who has been steadily advancing since his notable supporting turn in “Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom” (2018), clicks well with Middleton during the early part of the film, and he surely has more things to do than compared to John Lithgow, who, to my big disappointment, does not have much to do in contrast while stuck in his thankless supporting role.

Overall, “Sharper”, which is directed by Benjamin Caron (He has been mostly known for directing several acclaimed British TV drama series such as “The Crown”, by the way), is a competent genre product, but it is just mildly entertaining without leaving much impression on me. As a matter of fact, I can name several other similar genre films much more compelling and interesting right now, and I particularly recommend you “House of Games” (1987) and “The Grifters” (1990). Both of these great movies are much, shall we say, shaper in comparison, and, believe me, you will have a more productive time with either of them.

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