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

Julianne Moore, Sebastian Stan head up brilliant cast of slick thriller set in New York.

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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

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 neo-thriller “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.)

‘Sharper’

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Apple Original Films and A24 present a film directed by Benjamin Caron and written by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka. Rated R (for language throughout and some sexual references). Running time: 116 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters and available Feb. 17 on Apple TV+.

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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