There is a place where film goes to die, and that place is currently Apple TV+; fortunately, the positive legs on cinema release Killers of the Flower Moon will signify an end to the tech giant’s vain strategy of making high-end films and dropping them unheralded, straight to their widely un-fancied streaming channel that’s Netflix but without the viewers. The current movement towards sharing what was once exclusive content might finally help find some of their expensive projects find an audience; for now, it’s worth gawping at the sheer hubris of making projects like Sharper, a rote confidence-trickster project that costs what a film does, but bypasses any scrutiny with zero opportunity for audiences to see or pay for it.
Sharper was on the 2020 Blacklist that supposedly connotes quality writing, ready for the screen, comes from top-shelf indie A24 and stars Julianne Moore, John Lithgow, Sebastian Stan and other notables; ten years ago, this kind of enterprise might have been expected to generate some coin with paying audiences, but not in 2023. Instead, Sharper is a standard-issue spec script twisty-turny thriller told from several different points of view. Tom (Justice Smith) is a nepo-baby guy, living in posho NYC and owning a bookshop with the money given to him by his hedge-fund father. Tom falls for mysterious girl Sandra (Brianna Middleton), who claims her brother is in trouble and says that she needs $350,000 cash to keep him alive; Tom obliges, but when Sandra doesn’t turn up at their favourite Japanese restaurant in Mott Street, he begins to smell a rat…
So without any need for spoilers, everyone is scamming everyone else in a film like this; it’s House of Games with most of the character and quirks removed. Stan and Moore play characters that may or may not be what they seem, and with nearly ten billion dollars in the pot, the stakes are high. Or rather, they should be high, expect none of these grasping, entitled characters seem to deserve that reward, or have any notion of what they might use it for; just wanting to be rich isn’t much of a motivation when everyone is at it. Moore is also an executive producer here, and gives herself a juicy enough role, but other than a blast of Talking Heads’ Slippery People, there’s little garnish other than the usual Apple TV+ movie emphasis on rich textures and out-of-focus backgrounds, and a game cast ticking off the plot points on the way to a seen-it-all-before fake-out conclusion.
At some point in Benjamin Caron’s film various characters are seen using, and being satisfied by, Apple’s patented brand of ear-buds, and that’s about as close as Sharper gets towards social commentary; as a product, it lacks identify. Apple Tv+ isn’t the only streamer that seems to see making media as a vanity project to burn off surplus cash, not subject to the conditions of the marketplace; the real trick is actually making stuff that people want to see, rather than just providing pricey, exclusive, widely unseen adverts for the streamer themselves. If films like Sharper are meant to be sharp practice by a savvy streamer, then they need to be considerably sharper than this.