It’s almost great. Benjamin Caron’s Sharper is a looping, teasing long con of a movie that traces its DNA back to David Mamet’s quick-witted hustlers and Anjelica Huston’s gloriously ruthless matriarch in Stephen Frears’s The Grifters. The picture’s chapter structure – each headed by a character’s name, each giving a fresh perspective of an interconnected web of greed and treachery – is handled with real flair. The performances, so thickly layered with charm and artifice that it’s hard to know what and who is real and what isn’t, are first-rate. It’s a pacy and enjoyable movie.
But here’s the thing about con movies: unlike other pictures, which tend to be built from the ground up, the key to the hustle is in the third-act payoff. The foundations of the film come right at the end. If those foundations are sound, everything that comes before – the whole tricky framework of lies and deceit – holds firm. But any hint of a wobble, and the entire picture is retroactively structurally compromised. And without giving too much away, there are stress fractures in the climax that, once you notice them, undermine some of the slick credibility of the plotting.
Still, there’s much to enjoy here. The New York backdrop, which combines the hard, moneyed shine of Manhattan present with the seductive sleaze of Manhattan past, and the chemistry between bookshop manager Tom (Justice Smith) and PhD student Sandra (Briana Middleton), neither of whom is quite what they say they are. And then there’s the magnificent Julianne Moore, mercurial and slippery in a gift of a role that makes the very most of her considerable talents.
Sharper is on Apple TV+ and in selected UK cinemas