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Newsletter | Sharper: Jagged Finish Blunts Sebastian Stan-Julianne Moore Noir's Edge

In the mood for 'a grimy, dreamlike noir...of suspicion and deceit'? Apple TV's Sharper is it, writes Harsh Pareek.

Newsletter | Sharper: Jagged Finish Blunts Sebastian Stan-Julianne Moore Noir's Edge
Poster for Sharper. Apple TV+

Last Updated: 12.51 PM, Feb 20, 2023


This column was originally published as part of our newsletter The Daily Show on February 20, 2023. Subscribe here. (We're awesome about not spamming your inbox!)


SOMETIMES you root for a character; at others, for a certain outcome. But every once in a while, you end up rooting for a film as a whole — for it to get over the finish line with flair. So when it falters, that too at the very end, the disappointment is genuine. Benjamin Caron's Sharper, quite unfortunately, resigns itself to that fate, but not before giving one plenty of reasons to stand in its corner.

The New York City-set neo-noir revolves around a con artist and the family of a Manhattan billionaire. That is just about all (if not more than) you need to know before picking up the film. It's a project that rewards going in blind, and we will try here to keep the story and character descriptions vague; for even with all its eventual flaws, Sharper is a worthy contender for your next viewing.

A Worthy Contender For Your Next Viewing

TO START WITH, Sharper looks gorgeous. Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen crafts a look that blends the more familiar old-school New York and the contemporary with a moody flourish. From the neighbourhood dive bars to the dark bookshops and the copper-hued penthouses (is cosy noir a thing?), it's a backdrop that begs for attention, yet seamlessly lends itself to the unfolding psychological thriller. Add to that a well put together soundtrack, and you have yourself a canvas that already draws one in.

Which leads us to what plays out on that said canvas. The film features an array of great performances by Justice Smith, Briana Middleton, Sebastian Stan, Julianne Moore and John Lithgow. A near-perfect casting which one hopes will help propel Middleton into the limelight, whose only major previous role has been in The Tender Bar.

While the film is structured into parts, each following/focusing on a character, it sidesteps the Rashomon method for a somewhat more linear approach, while trusting its audience to keep up. And it's so much the better for it. From the get-go, the film draws you in with its brooding atmosphere and minimal approach, all the while upping the tempo as it moves along with each above-mentioned part. Soon enough, you find yourself in a grimy, dreamlike noir realm of suspicion and deceit.

That is, until we get to the third act.

For a film that leans heavily on twists and turns, Sharper is at times guilty of being predictable. And if you're a fan of the genre, it is not that difficult to see where it is coming from. But for the most part, these transgressions are easy to look past in favour of all that the film gets right — a mini saga of greed, riches, cunning, and perseverance.

Then, the dreaded comes to pass, and the entire setup just falls flat in a puddle of the unimaginative, bordering on silly. When push comes to shove in tying up the threads for the finale, what so far had felt compelling and entertaining, ends up amounting to little more than a glorified B-movie.

It is also interesting to note how not only substance, but style as well, abandons the film in a single go. Gone is the undercurrent of beauty in a tedious rush to the end. And it's a bloody shame, for Sharper ends up being less than the sum of its parts.

And yet.

And yet, I would implore you to give it a chance. What works here is as much exciting as it is comforting. A neo-noir in the true sense, it fashionably navigates that landscape of old, compelling one to wish for the revival of the genre. That counts for something.

Sharper is streaming on Apple TV+

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