‘Sharper’ Review: The Big Con

The film stars Sebastian Stan and Julianne Moore in a baroque but lackluster story of con artists circling a Manhattan billionaire’s fortune.

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By Nicolas Rapold

Perhaps phishing emails have taken the romance out of con artistry, but “Sharper” feels downright quaint in its Russian-doll plotting of elaborate scams. That’s no crime in itself, but the movie also confirms that stories about con artists might require more panache, or at least a sense of danger.

The movie opens with a rom-com coziness, as Sandra (Briana Middleton) meets Tom (Justice Smith) in his tastefully appointed Greenwich Village bookshop. Their goo-goo-eyed dating ends badly, with the extraction of a large sum of cash. Each chapter of the film then pulls back the curtain on one of the characters. We learn that Sandra previously crossed paths with Max (Sebastian Stan), a smooth operator who is close to the Fifth Avenue habitué Madeline (Julianne Moore).

Madeline in turn is dating a billionaire (John Lithgow), who’s about as safe in this setup as a chicken in a shark tank. The false fronts of the plotting are the film’s only reliable kick, and so they’re best left unexposed here, but the general modus operandi hinges on triggering protective impulses and panic responses.

Yet this tony-looking film, directed by Benjamin Caron (“The Crown”), feels less poker-faced than prim about its characters and their behavior. The story misses the clinical bravado of David Mamet’s heists, the psychosexual menace of “The Grifters,” or — despite opening with a dictionary definition — the crooked community described in the David Maurer classic “The Big Con.”

The film’s biggest trick might be casting Moore, Stan and the positively glowing Middleton and still never quite catching fire.

Rated R for language throughout and some sexual references. Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes. Watch on Apple TV+.

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