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Review: 'Sharper' packs wild twists, Julianne Moore and John Lithgow spot on

The newest film from Apple TV+ stars Sebastian Stan and Julianne Moore, con artists trying to bilk a sick billionaire out of his fortune.

MAINE, USA — [Editor's note: This article is a critical analysis of a film and does not represent the views of NEWS CENTER Maine, but that of the author.]

How do you con a sick billionaire out of his fortune? Sebastian Stan and Julianne Moore star in a new film called "Sharper" that attempts to answer this very question. 

The Story

"Sharper" opens with what appears to be a straightforward romantic story between the owner of a bookstore named Tom (Justice Smith) and a Ph.D. student named Sandra (Briana Middleton). 

Sandra walks into Tom's store one day looking for a hardcover of "Their Eyes Were Watching God." The two discover a shared passion for literature and start dating. Sandra and Tom spend the next couple of weeks steadily growing closer. That is, until one night Tom is awakened by furious knocking and yelling outside Sandra's apartment door. 

The student explains her brother is troubled, and she sometimes gives him money. A couple of days later, Tom finds Sandra distraught in her apartment. She said some loan sharks beat up her brother and told him he has four days to pay back $350,000. 

At this point, Tom reveals he can give her the money because his father is rich. Sandra refuses at first but then accepts the gift. She disappears after that, and Tom is unable to find Sandra. 

Without giving away further spoilers, "Sharper" reveals its story is going to be told in titled sections, each named after a character. Some of them are told in a non-linear narrative. 

The story introduces Max (Sebastian Stan), a slick con artist, and Madeline (Julianne Moore), a woman romantically involved with Tom's father, Richard (John Lithgow). 

From there, the story only continues to add more twists and turns as it kicks the psychological thriller into high gear. 

Credit: Apple TV+


"Sharper" admittedly gets off to a slow start. The initial romantic scenes feel like something done in a thousand movies that came before it. But if audiences are patient enough to wait 10 to 15 minutes, the story gets measurably better from the moment Max shows up. 

Stan owns the show from the minute he appears as a slick con artist. His role is fantastic because audiences will never know when he's being authentic and when he's in the game. 

The way he plays off of Moore as Madeline only strengthens this tightly-wound heist film that'll keep audiences guessing what happens next. 

"Sharper" is an intelligent film where the twists should be more than enough to earn a few gasps from the audience. 

There's not a bad performance in the movie, and everyone from Lithgow to Middleton serves the unpredictable narrative filled with questionable people. It's an entertaining spectacle from the moment Max appears until the final scene where Sandra brings the entire plot full circle. 

Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen captures some eerily moody shots throughout the entire film with dark areas lit with neon lights. It makes the city feel like a claustrophobic setting as the net tightens on these characters. 

If audiences will patiently wait through a slow opening sequence, they'll be rewarded with an intelligent thriller from screenwriters Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka that just keep the surprises coming. 

"Sharper" opens in select theaters this weekend and debuts on Apple TV+ on Feb. 17. Folks have options to see it on the big screen or in the comfort of their own homes.  

Also playing this week

"Magic Mike's Last Dance" opens this weekend in theaters, capping off the film trilogy. It'll be the last entry in that franchise. 

And at home, Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher have a new rom-com coming to Netflix this weekend. It's called "Your Place or Mine."

To see which movies are playing at a theater near you, click here

For more movie thoughts, follow Courtney Lanning on Twitter here.

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