Craftily hides razor-sharp social commentary
Sharper, directed by Benjamin Caron, is now streaming on Apple TV+. It is yet another A24 marvel but not quite in the same signature style. Julian Moore, Brianna Middleton, and Sebastian Stan star in this picture mostly about a few grifters who get caught up in their lies trying to enact a big con. Despite its relatively short runtime and extensive plotting, Sharper hides razor-sharp social commentary on the human condition beneath everything. That is the most compelling thing you take away from it, even though you can see the plot twists a long way coming. There are plenty of ways to approach Sharper and we will discuss a few significant ones in this review.
In a similar manner that Quentin Tarantino writes his screenplays, Sharper introduces each segment of its storytelling through a different character introduction. As we more intimately learn about Tom (Justice Smith), Sandra/Sandy (Middleton), Max (Stan), and Madeline (Moore), the plot progresses further. The nonlinear format chosen by Caron and writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanka does not deliver a jarring sensation to the viewer. It is quite easy to follow the story and even reasonably speculate what is going to happen next, once the central conceit is given away in Max’s segment.
The real surprise and challenge for the viewer lie in what hides underneath this big con. Sharper is a very hard sell purely as a thriller film about grifters enabling each other in a match of chess. The wealth of movies today that exploit this narrative choice does not give an original look to Sharper. Since it lacks the signature A24 punch, Benjamin Caron deftly ties his story up in little cues and dialogues that characters say. It is a little reaction they have to something or how they decide to do an action in a certain way that is the more compelling feature of Sharper.
Those subtle yet significant elements can dictate how you see the movie. For instance, one can extrapolate the character of Sandy/Sandra to represent how one single human being can be two different people at once, despite their conflicting natures. This is represented by Caron through two segments, “Sandra” and “Sandy”. On both occasions, we do not see her as two different people. Instead, we see the duality in her personality; just one single person, whose one part allows her to choose independently of the other. This approach is more in line with the handling of the subject matter – deception, manipulation, savagery, and compassion.
Another way to look at Sharper is like a coming-of-age story. The moment “Sandy” walks away from the aeroplane, there is an instant change in how we see the character and how long she has come since she was struggling as “Sandra.” It is an evolution of sorts in her journey to sobriety, compassion, thought process, and then finally the definitive action to mark the change. Granted, her arch felt slightly rushed given the story format. But it still aroused a telling impact on the viewer. Then, there is the idea that love finds a way to branch through the densest of canopies of human greed and helplessness.
Brianna Middleton delivers a hopeful performance. It might not have been the starry role that confirms her a bonafide superstar but she is a major talent to look out for. The shades of Sandra she manages to bring to the fore are truly compelling. Sebastian Stan acts as a great supporting co for Middleton and then Moore, who relishes in Madeline’s layered professionalism.
Sharper’s biggest strength is having options of perspectives, seeing the different characters representing one part of the scathing commentary on the human condition. The movie is immensely successful at prioritizing the exhibition of certain natural human instincts and how they can work on either side of the moral compass. It certainly feels like an expose but without excessive dramatic flair. Benjamin Caron does try to instill the A24 factor like it has caught the fancy of audiences but it is not as impactful. Sharper’s fortunes change when you see it as a sum of the parts.
Read More: Sharper Ending Explained
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Verdict - 7/10