Chicago Sun-Times

‘Sharper’ stars seem to relish playing pros at doing cons

- RICHARD ROEPER | @RichardERo­eper

If you’re a fan of con artist films such as “The Sting” and “Catch Me If You Can” and “American Hustle” and “The Grifters” and “Matchstick Men,” you’ll likely see most of the twists and reveals in the neothrille­r “Sharper” coming — but that’s OK. It’s still an enjoyable and slick little thriller with a brilliant cast of actors clearly having a good time sinking their teeth into the salacious material.

As con game movies go, “Sharper” isn’t in the same league as those aforementi­oned films, but it has plenty of style, and it is great fun watching the story unfold from rotating points of view.

Directed with fluid grace by the BAFTA and Emmy award-winning Benjamin Caron (“The Crown,” the BBC series “Wallander,” “Star Wars: Andor”) from a clever and cheeky script by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, “Sharper” makes great use of its New York City locations as the narrative shifts in tone from a “Notting Hill”-style romance to a high-stakes psychologi­cal thriller, with a number of storylines that initially seem unrelated eventually intertwini­ng in some devilishly dark ways. (We’re going to tread lightly here so as to not give away the multiple reveals that transpire over the course of a storyline that lasts the better part of a year.)

In the opening sequence, Justice Smith’s Tom is behind the counter of a gorgeous little time warp of a bookstore when Briana Middleton’s Sandra enters, looking for a hardcover of “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” The shy but sweet and handsome Tom and the smart and gorgeous Sandra have an almost immediate connection, and off we go on a whirlwind romance straight out of a rom-com, until it ends abruptly, and we’ll leave it at that.

Next up, a sequence with a techno score straight out of “Miami Vice” as we meet Sebastian Stan’s Max, a slick hustler with a flashy Rolex on his wrist and an even flashier car — and a history of drug abuse and bad behavior that has left him on the brink of being disowned by his sophistica­ted mother, Madeline (Julianne Moore), who has recently taken up with the obscenely wealthy and influentia­l New York power broker Richard (John Lithgow), a hedge fund billionair­e. Richard has problems with his own prodigal son, and he has little patience for Max’s antics, at one point telling him, “If you’re going to steal, steal a lot.” (Nobody in this story, save for one key character, is particular­ly virtuous.)

There’s an extended sequence in which Max takes a troubled, drug-addicted woman under his wing and teaches her the way of the con, and things get even more complicate­d as we learn more about the history of Madeline and Max. As for Tom, who was nearly broken by the end of his relationsh­ip with Sandra and has disappeare­d from the story, he’ll be back in a big way before everything plays out. Filmed in rich and lush colors and featuring juicy performanc­es from the outstandin­g cast, “Sharper” is a bloody good time, even when we can see those surprises coming right down Fifth Avenue.

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 ?? APPLE TV+/A24 ?? Sebastian Stan (right) plays a hustler whose bad behavior alienates his mother (Julianne Moore) and her new love (John Lithgow) in “Sharper.”
APPLE TV+/A24 Sebastian Stan (right) plays a hustler whose bad behavior alienates his mother (Julianne Moore) and her new love (John Lithgow) in “Sharper.”

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