‘Sharper’ (2023) Review: A Predictable Con

Nuha Hassan
3 min readFeb 18, 2023
Justice Smith and Julianne Moore as Tom and Madeline. Image courtesy of Apple TV+.

Benjamin Caron’s Shaper is a movie with many twists. It follows con artists and Manhattan’s richest in a game of the unexpected, extreme situations of double and triple-crosses. With a great ensemble from Sebastian Stan to Julianne Moore, Sharper presents characters from complex backgrounds with grand schemes of conning people, which would only work with a clever script of the con. The movie’s entire narrative relies on a cohesive structure, but the jigsaw puzzle reveals a spiralling mess that never succeeds.

Tom (Justice Smith) owns a bookstore in Manhattan. Sandra (Briana Middleton), a graduate college student working on her thesis, visits the bookstore searching for a book. They two have instant chemistry, and they immediately start dating. After a couple of weeks, Sandra reveals that her brother is in trouble and needs an insane amount of cash to pay off a debt. When the danger intensifies, Tom agrees to help and gives the money to Sandra, but she disappears.

Briana Middleton and Justice Smith as Sandra and Tom. Image courtesy of Apple TV+

Sharper quickly shifts from a sweet meet-cute to a con drama and reveals the second title card, “Sandra,” who happens to be a former drug addict. There is nothing coincidental about Sandra’s appearance at Tom’s bookshop. She meets master con artist Max (Stan) to carry out an operation. He pays off her parole officer, gets her clean and trains her to become a con artist — all to get back to his mother, Madeline’s (Moore) new husband, Richard (John Lithgow), who also happens to be Tom’s father. But just like every con drama, not everything is all that it seems with this twisted family.

The problem with Sharper is not just the narrative jigsaw puzzle that adds more layers of mystery and double-crosses; the writers believe that the audience wouldn’t be able to follow this obvious, predictable con. Sharper attempts to introduce each of the intriguing and complex characters using title cards that reveal the truth behind them. Each chapter has a twist meant to rattle and surprise the audience. It’s fascinating to watch the thrill of the con game play out. Betrayals and double and triple-crosses are part of the genre’s elements. However, the movie’s narrative structure is too predictable for the audience to be left surprised by the games. Even before the final con could be finished, audiences know how it ends. It’s a dull affair, where the characters are shallow. The backstory requires more attention than the con itself.

Sebastian Stan as Max. Image courtesy of Apple TV+.

Regardless of these problems in the narrative structure, Sharper is mildly entertaining. Even when the twists are predictable, you can’t help but sit back and watch how everything plays out for the characters. Moore is the only actor that seems to be enjoying the material. She plays a mother who takes care of her troubled son. When the story shifts with a twist, Moore shines the most. These changes keep the story alluring enough, but it doesn’t save the movie.

As the twists keep spinning out of control, Sharper becomes an overstuffed frenzy of con games that doesn’t know when to stop. It’s even alarming that Caron expects his audience to fall for all the tricks. Perhaps the movie’s ending could’ve been a bit sharper around the edges to maintain the momentum of the con.