Apple TV’s Sharper Is a Twisty, Satisfying Neo-Noir: Review

The Pitch: Greed, manipulation, jealousy, and ambition at the expense of others might not be the qualities anyone wants in their interpersonal relationships, but they sure make for great stories, don’t they?

Sharper, the upcoming drama film from A24, describes itself as a story where no one is who they seem. Structured in chapters, jumping from perspective to perspective among our central characters, we first meet Tom, the kind, somewhat vulnerable, and relatively lost bookshop owner brought to life by Justice Smith. Smith ends up doing some sleuthing here, but he has no furry companion by his side this time; Sharper is firmly grounded in a gritty but aesthetic New York City.

Over the course of almost two hours, Sharper weaves through Tom’s crossings with Sandra (relative newcomer Briana Middleton, who makes a distinct splash), Max (a well-cast Sebastian Stan), Madeline (Julianne Moore) and Richard (John Lithgow). Director Benjamin Caron’s take on the neo-noir genre keeps us on our toes, utilizing genre trademarks like double-crossing, moral grayness, and a current of desire to tell the story here. At the core of everything, of course, is the desire for one thing above all else: money.

Bedrooms, Barrooms, and Boardrooms: It’s a bit difficult to dive into the details of Sharper without ruining all the fun. Even hinting at the existence of twists feels like it will unfairly prepare the audience for what’s in store here, but viewers will catch on to the structure being employed with each perspective jump early enough. Even when we feel like we’re in on the con, we’re wrong — motivations and loyalties shift, and the effect is incredibly engaging.

The script was penned by Columbia friends Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka; the idea was first conceived 15 years ago, but the initial reception to the concept was tepid. Tanaka, now established through work on The Sitter, Comrade Detective, and Superstore, reintroduced the idea to Gatewood, and the two dove into revisiting the script. Upon completion, the script started generating buzz fast — it landed on The Black List in 2020 and caught the attention of Julianne Moore, who got in touch with the writers the day after reading the script and came on as a producer.

Gatewood and Tanaka describe themselves as “longtime fans of thrillers” in the press notes for the film, and it’s clear that they know the genre inside and out. The twists here are well-timed and the pacing of the story is strong. They describe their process as partially inspired by the idea that we all wear masks throughout the day; lying has become so commonplace that some people don’t even realize the way they shift in and out of their disguises in various settings.

julianne moore justice smith sharper

Sharper (Apple TV+)

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