'Sharper' Review: Twists & Turns With Julianne Moore, Sebastian Stan, Justice Smith & Others
It's always a bit risky to have a title that can be used against you when commenting on a film's quality (there will surely be a lot of mentions about something being dull or turns it takes). Slowly unravelling mystery thriller Sharper will try its damnedest to avoid those talking points by zigzagging through lives of ultra-rich with deceptive smiles. We're introduced to bookstore owner Tom (Justice Smith) who finds himself in a meet-cute with college student Sandra (Briana Middleton). After a few weeks of dating, Sandra's brother turns out to be in huge debt, Tom then reveals his family's wealth and volunteers to pay the debt. However, Sandra never returns which leads Tom to investigate her disappearance and his lost money, this then unearths secrets about Tom's father Richard (John Lithgow), stepmother Madeline (Julianne Moore) and her son Max (Sebastian Stan), and how they're all connected.
That opening scene at the bookstore immediately jumps out because of the film's genre and how its rom-com vibe, cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen's slow camera moves and soothing lighting have you in a state of confusion for a second. Sharper's world then gets increasingly gloomy and elegant as the story begins to climb up its pyramid structure. Layers of that pyramid connect pretty seamlessly as the acts are named after characters' names, untangling the patterns of manipulation, abuse and power struggles. Director Benjamin Caron's visualisation of Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka's screenplay is rather handsome, even sexy when it needs to be. There's quite a bit of focus on architecture and how small some characters can be in those settings when they're not seeing the room as it is.
Caron and writers could've certainly done more when it comes to having a personal touch on the material as it can also rely heavily on clichés and modest characterisations without adding much to them. That's why the film often only stays intact because of solid acting work on display, Moore, Smith and Stan—who apparently now has a dance break clause in his contract—sharing a level of intensity and poise that's required in this specific genre.
Elsewhere, it's sometimes irritating that the stylish filmmaking has to share space with more lifeless details, such as the score and soundtrack which is full of choices that are way too safe for this story and some perplexing ones like an inclusion of Disasterpeace track from the film 'It Follows' (perhaps a temp track for which Caron developed a case of demoitis?). It's troubling that it's a standout track while composer Clint Mansell's work is as vanilla as the ending chapter and curated songs; it's okay to take risks with music and twists when your characters are this devious.
Smileys: Acting, structure
Frowneys: Minor issues with soundtrack
''Movies are a waste of time'' Sure, now you're just begging for it.