Good cast knows good money when they see it.
There’s a scene in “Sharper,” when Sebastian Stan’s Max asks Briana Middleton’s Sandra what her favorite movie is. She responds: “Titanic,” and he comments on how that film was the one that made Leonardo DiCaprio. He admits that he doesn’t watch movies, because they’re a waste of time, and he said it because it gave her the impression that he did. He intends to make people think she’s somebody she’s not. But what is she doing for him exactly? Being a little con artist in his game.
“Sharper” is another film to play the money game with a Soderbergh style and attitude. It’s the kind of film that he should have made instead of that boring threequel “Magic Mike’s Last Dance.” It sounds routine, considering he handles the money game ingeniously well with “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Logan Lucky,” but they’re still fun. But still director Benjamin Caron (“Andor,” “The Crown”) does some good work in the genre, as he steps up from TV to movies. He directs like he knows what kind of film genre he wants to accomplish.
The movie opens with Justice Smith as a young bookshop owner named Tom, who meets Sandra, and the two begin dating. He tells her his rich father Richard Hobbes (John Lithgow) mistreats him, and she tells him her brother is in danger. He offers her money to help, which she’s supposed to deny. She doesn’t want him to be suspicious, if she accepts it immediately.
Julianne Moore plays another con artist in Max’s game. She has to pose as his mom by dating Hobbes, and acting like she has grown distant from her drug addiction. And they also have his buddy Tipsy (Phillip Johnson Richardson) pose as a detective, so that her boyfriend can give him bribe money.
These people are part of a game when they screw the rich over. And why wouldn’t they?
It seems to be cut-and-paste with the script by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka (both behind “The Sitter” and “Superstore”) with its would-be romances, but the narrative style wants to be with Tarantino and Soderbergh. Seeing these fresh actors take on particular roles never ceases to amaze me. Smith has vulnerabilities as the young guy who isn’t spoiled as his father is, Lithgow has the age and built of that old man, Stan makes a better bad guy than he did last year in “The 355,” Middleton does some good work as the young love interest, and Moore transcends amazingly well when she cries and curses.
These characters don’t need smiles like Rosamund Pike did in “I Care a Lot” to pull off their schemes, they aren’t concerned with the Oscar buzz that “American Hustle” or “The Sting” got, and they don’t require music and behaviors as in “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “Hustler,” and all of them are great movies. I’m saying: this is an independent feature released by A24 and AppleTV+, which means we can have people acting like people who know how to act like people. It’s all part of the game. I know you understand.
“Sharper” needs to be tougher minded in the screenplay, but it’s sharp enough to entertain us with these A-list actors and how he director intends to enter a dangerous trek. One that will almost always entertain the adults. And besides, it’s no con game without twists-some are predictable and some are surprising. Take it from me, this movie can try, but it won’t steal your money. You’re safe to watch it.
Now Playing in Select Theaters
Streaming on AppleTV+ This Friday