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Apple TV+ 'Sharper' director cleverly blends rom-com elements with a thriller on deceit

"Sharper is a movie less interested in crime specifically and more interested in how people talk, flirt, lie ... to get what they want," Benjamin Caron says

From his work on the Netflix hit The Crown and the Andor series on Disney+, director Benjamin Caron takes us through the twists and turns of deception in the Apple TV+ film Sharper, starring Julianne Moore, Sebastian Stan, Justice Smith, Briana Middleton and John Lithgow.

“Deception is a sort of defining feature of this movie, but I would say that Sharper is a movie less interested in crime specifically and more interested in how people talk, flirt, lie, impersonate, connive in order to get what they want,” Caron told Yahoo Canada. “Small deceptions have far reaching, sort of explosive effects, … so a character’s sense of themselves becomes threatened.”

“That was absolutely everything that I kind of responded to in the movie. … I was thinking about this the other day. I was thinking, look how pervasive sort of cheating and lying has become everywhere. We have fake news. We have people who can go online and create sort of profiles, and false impressions of who they are. So everything has to be questioned.”

Briana Middleton and Justice Smith in
Briana Middleton and Justice Smith in "Sharper," premiering February 17, 2023 on Apple TV+.

Playing with the thriller genre, starting with a romantic comedy feel

For Sharper, written by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, Caron was also able to really play with genre throughout the story. The film is certainly a thriller and a drama, but at the outset of the film, it feels like a romantic comedy. Sharper begins with bookstore owner Tom (Smith) meeting PhD student Sandra (Middleton). As the two start to hit it off, we get put into this seemingly sweet love story, before you get into the deceit of the narrative.

“I think maybe a while back films had to sort of stay within the boundaries of what that genre was, … it has to be just horror, or it has to be just a romantic comedy,” Caron said. “I think audiences are smart and films like Parasite have shown you how you can sort of slightly play with genres within one film.”

“In a film about sort of leaning into misdirection and mischief I thought it's a fun way to start Sharper, where it's almost as though Richard Curtis was making Notting Hill in New York. We start when Sandra and Tom meet. It's springtime in New York, which is kind of a classically romantic season and a perfect time to fall in love. [It] kind of embodies hope, new beginnings."

The romantic comedy feel at the beginning of the movie also helps the audience feel invested in the love story between these two characters, which is quite critical to make the rest of the movie work.

“You really need to believe in this couple, you need to believe that there is a connection between Tom and Sandra," Caron said. "It's really important for the payoff at the end."

Justice Smith and Briana Middleton in
Justice Smith and Briana Middleton in "Sharper," now streaming on Apple TV+.

But Caron is also quite clever in the way that he indicates to the audience that this is a thriller, specifically with the title sequence. Without spoiling too much of the film, a watch, like we see in this sequence, is also an identifiable element of the story.

"I started to think about, well, what's the difference between real and not real? And it felt to me like a sort of a metaphor for the film," Caron explained. "And actually, what would it be like to see the making of a Rolex watch?"

"It sort of started with that and then I thought, well, we need to kind of hold the audience at the beginning to sort of tell them this is a thriller. Because if you just came straight into that scene with Tom, I was worried that you might literally think it's going to be something else. So that title scene at the beginning is a kind of promise of something that is going to happen at some point."

Julianne Moore in
Julianne Moore in "Sharper," now streaming on Apple TV+.

That cleverness in Caron's direction is also evident in the big "payoff" moments at the end of the film. While we won't spoil what that is, the director had an interesting way of working with the actors on that scene

“At the end of the film, something dramatic happens,” Caron teased. “I created that scene without two of the actors, so we rehearsed and we created that as though it was happening for real, and then I invited those two actors in to kind of experience that for real, just once.”

“I wanted them to tell me whether they believed it and also, to kind of remember what that experience was like in that scenario, and how you can go along with something in a situation like that, because you were sort of carried along with the momentum of it.”

Director Benjamin Caron poses for photographers upon arrival for the World premiere of 'Sharper' in London, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2022. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)
Director Benjamin Caron poses for photographers upon arrival for the World premiere of 'Sharper' in London, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2022. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

'Some of the filmmaking in television is as ambitious and as brilliant as it is in feature film'

Given his award-winning success in series work, you may be surprised to know that this is Caron's first feature film directing project. But the famed director highlights that even with his previous work, he was still thinking about crafting something for the "big screen."

“My work on The Crown, or Andor, I'm still thinking about making something for the big screen,” Caron explained. “That's what I've wanted to do since I was a young kid and I guess that has always been the ambition.

“I've been fortunate enough on The Crown, or Andor, to have budgets and ambition, and talent to actually make work that could potentially sit on the big screen. ... When I was growing up, you sort of had a small television in the corner of the room and if you were making something for television, it was lots of close ups, because otherwise you wouldn't see the actors’ faces. Whereas now, I think some of the filmmaking in television is as ambitious and as brilliant as it is in feature film.”

Caron's impressive resume is truly evidence that projects made for streaming can absolutely be as compelling as a feature film made for the big screen.