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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

May 9, 2023



THERE HAVE been many movies about con artists or swindlers, one of them, “The Sting”, even won as Oscar best picture. Other memorable con films are “The Grifters”, “Matchstick Men”, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (filmed twice) and the “Ocean’s” movies (the original, plus 11, 12, 13, 8).

Now comes “Sharper”, a caper-thriller on Apple TV with a fractured narrative structure focusing on its various characters. 

First is “Tom” (Justice Smith), who owns a used books store in New York and meets a pretty girl named Sandra (Briana Middleton) who says she’s a PhD student. 

He woos her, she’s initially resistant, but eventually agrees to go out on a date with him.  

Tom becomes so enamoured with her and when she tells him that she needs $350,000 to help her brother who might be killed if he couldn’t pay his debt, he volunteers to give her the money as it turns out he has a rich dad. 

As soon as she gets the bag full of money, Sandra vanishes into thin air.

The next story is “Sandra”, who turns out to be an ex-convict. 

While meeting with her parole officer who threatens to put her back in jail if she wouldn’t pay up, she meets a wealthy man, Max (Sebastian Stan), who pays off the probation officer. 

It turns out Max is a con artist who gets Sandy or Sandra to be his accomplice in swindling people, one of them being Tom. 

The third story is on “Max”, who we see visiting his mother, Madeline (Julianne Moore), whose new husband is a billionaire, Richard Hobbes (John Lithgow), who happens to be the father of Tom. 

We also learn later that Madeline and Max are not really mother and son but lovers. 

The next story is “Madeline”. Her husband has died and leaves her his billions. 

His son Tom, inherits only the used books store. 

The last story is “Sandy”. Tom gets to locate her whereabouts and she tells Madeline she knows the truth about her and Max. 

And this is as far as we’d go in sharing the narrative as anything else will be a sure spoiler. 

For a con artist movie to work and be fun , it needs to be written convincingly. 

Otherwise, we won’t enjoy watching it, specially if the characters are so dark and evil. 

In this movie, the title is used as a noun, referring to a con artist who lives on cheating others using his wits. But the contrivances used in telling the tricky story are not that convincing.

As the movie shifts from one character viewpoint to another, you’d be so daft if you wouldn’t be able to guess as to where it’s all going. 

Those who love caper films or heist movies will easily be able to detect the twists in the story. 

In this game of deception where nothing is what it seems, everything does come together eventually in the end. 

But with its plodding pace and its tone that takes things so seriously, the movie is really quite dull and tedious. 

The movie is directed by Benjamin Caron, who won the Emmy for “The Crown”. 

He manages to come up with good visuals from wide drone shots of sparkling Manhattan at night to the interiors of John Lithgow’s luxurious high-rise abode. 

There is also a bit of fun seeing con artists putting one over each other, but the parts of the film are actually better than its whole, which is far from being satisfying since we meet terrible characters who all deserve to be punished. 

You’d really wish the director and his scriptwriters were a bit sharper in telling the story. 

Even the acting is mediocre. You’d have to suspend your disbelief big time to believe that John Lithgow sires someone like Justice Smith since their resemblance as father and son is a big zero. 

And it’s even more unbelievable that Lithgow would easily buy that Sebastian Stan is the son of Julianne Moore. 

Stan seems to be deadset on erasing his good guy image as the Winter Soldier with his bad boy roles in this movie and in “Fresh” and “The 355”. Here's hoping he won't regret such a move.