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'Sharper' takes itself desperately seriously

Apple TV+

I’m a sucker for con artist movies, but I need at least one of two things from them—they either need to be extremely sharply written, or they need to be fun. Often the fun comes from the writing, even if the tone is dark and sober, but I don’t need everything in the plot to perfectly line up as long as we’re enjoying ourselves along the way.

One might hope for a movie called Sharper to have some of that sharp writing, and the movie itself certainly thinks it will, opening with a closeup of the inner workings of a watch, as we see all the little gears turning. We learn from some text on the screen that the title, Sharper, is actually a noun, a term for a con artist, or, as the movie prefers, “one who lives by their wits.” I don’t believe the word is ever actually said in the film.

We meet Tom, who owns a bookstore, and who meets a woman he falls in love with. And then she disappears with a few hundred thousand of his dollars. The movie then shifts to tell her story, as we see how she got to this point, before it shifts again to tell another character’s story, and then again to tell another’s. This must have seemed like a clever conceit, but after a couple of times jumping perspectives, it's mostly irritating. I’ll be cagy with the plot, because if there’s any fun to be had, it’s in not knowing where things are going, although in this case, you generally kind of do.

The film takes itself desperately seriously, with its droning synth music as a car drives down the highway at night and an unnecessary weightiness to everything that happens, as if we’ve never seen a con artist movie before. No one is terribly believable as a con artist, and Sebastian Stan, who shows up in a major role, is particularly devoid of charisma.

That everything does eventually come together by the end isn’t nearly as satisfying as it should be, largely because none of this has been any fun. I suppose if you really haven’t seen a con artist movie before this might work for you, but I assure you, there are much better options out there, and this shouldn’t be the one you pick.

Sharper is on Apple TV+

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.