This thriller’s unwillingness to colour outside the lines makes it predictable

Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Opens Feb. 17
Apple TV+
2.5 out of 5

Let’s talk Apple TV Plus movies: gorgeous, expensive, safe, little seen. Tom Hanks has starred in two of them (Greyhound and Finch) and Will Smith thought he had a shot at another Oscar with Emancipation (seriously). Is this the first time you’ve heard of these titles? You’re not alone. CODA, you say? Last year’s Oscar winner was purchased by Apple at Sundance, and it has to be one of the weakest films to ever win Best Picture.

Three “plus” years in (ha! ha!), the streamer has yet to establish a discernible identity beyond mid-budget dramas and documentaries squeezed out from theatres.

Sharper is the quintessential Apple TV Plus film. It gives the impression of being a prestige movie, but wilts under scrutiny. Tom (Justice Smith) is the estranged son of a billionaire (John Lithgow) who lacks the killer instinct to make it in his dad’s world. He falls for a student (Briana Middleton) who promptly swindles him for $350,000.

Observing from the sidelines is Madeline (Julianne Moore), the billionaire’s new wife, and her son Max (Sebastian Stan). They’re invested in the outcome, but it’s not immediately clear why.

The appeal of Sharper is the mystery: who is conning who and for what purpose. But if you’ve seen enough thrillers of this type, you can tell the characters’ designs well in advance (there are only so many possible combinations). But the big problem with Sharper is that there’s nothing transgressive about it. Sure, the characters are wicked, but next to The Grifters they’re Ocean’s Eleven.

The movie misses a golden opportunity by portraying the captain of industry as the mark. Nobody wins capitalism without having the soul of a swindler. ■