Film

Sharper director Benjamin Caron: 'Money basically equals success in New York'

Director Benjamin Caron's first feature film, Sharper, weaves a tangle of twisting plot layers within the realm of New York's super-wealthy. It's a long way from Stourbridge

John Lithgow and Julianne Moore in Sharper

John Lithgow and Julianne Moore in "Sharper," premiering February 17 on Apple TV+. Image: Apple TV+

When is a film not a film? When it’s about six films in one, switches genres effortlessly, and takes its audience on a ride through connected stories with such verve and style that no one cares that what began as a smart romantic comedy has pivoted to a high-octane thriller, by way of revenge drama and twisty-turny con artist caper. If it has something to say about global capitalism, well, even better.

Welcome to Sharper, the new Apple TV+ film starring Julianne Moore, Sebastian Stan, Briana Middleton, Justice Smith and John Lithgow and directed by Benjamin Caron, whose back catalogue ranges from Andor to The Crown, Sherlock to Skins and My Mad Fat Diary to Wallander.

“I was thinking about the way Parasite, which came out a couple of years ago, dragged you across genres in a really interesting way,” says Caron. It’s a filmmaking style that is increasingly hip. Triangle of Sadness, Everything Everywhere All at Once and White Noise also begin in one genre before pivoting suddenly.

Everything Everywhere… was completely mind-blowing and mind-boggling and brilliant. And exactly how filmmaking should be,” says Caron. “It feels fresh. Watching movies is an existential experience of feeling something. And those films make you feel something deep. Films should take you to a dreamscape and lead you on a wild ride. The audience is intelligent enough and were yearning to go with filmmakers on that journey. So with Sharper I wanted to start with my version of an indie romantic comedy – as if I had bottled up Richard Curtis and taken him to the West Village in Manhattan.

“There’s a bookshop, a boy locked away in the world of fiction because that’s where he feels safe, and the door opens and a girl walks in. It’s a story as old as time. And it lent itself to that romantic comedy style. So we roll along with that for the first act of the movie. That part of story is so important because the investment you have in Tom (Smith) and Sandra (Middleton) is what carries you through the whole film.”

But there’s more. So much more. Because then Julianne Moore arrives. And with her arrival, Sharper gets complicated. Timelines replay from different perspectives. Updated backstories distort the reality of what we’ve been watching. Characters are shown in new lights. And the tone as style of the story is transformed.

“Julianne Moore is one of the most original, courageous actors around,” says Caron. “And she just loves to act. I remember conversations where she just said, ‘I just love the camera. I love acting.’ And she is as good as it gets. A wonderful actor, but more importantly, a really nice human being.

“I remember seeing her in Safe, Todd Haynes’s film, which was one of her first and falling in love with her there. I’ve grown up seeing her in indie films and bigger blockbusters. She’s managed to straddle the indie world and the studio world so successfully while keeping a sense of integrity about what she stands for. She’s very active. She puts her head above the parapet. And she talks very, very ferociously – and rightly so – about guns in America.”

Moore also picked up on an underlying theme of Sharper. That this genre-mashing film takes a pot shot at the huge disparity in wealth in the US.

“The richest one per cent own something like half America’s wealth,” says Caron. “Just think about that for a moment. It is completely mental. It’s like at school, if one kid in your year group owned half of everything. If half the books, half the chairs were just for them.

“Julianne prompted a discussion about New York and how the city operates at the sharp end of the American dream. It’s a transactional city. In a few short decades it has become this deregulated free market capitalism playground of insane wealth, with this chasm between rich and poor. It’s a city that venerates wealth and attracts hustlers and chances and grifters.

“There’s no real class divide like we have in the UK. Money basically equals success in New York. Our characters could only exist in New York City. It is still reeling from the effects of Reagan, where suddenly money and wealth was everything – a city where everything’s allowed and you can be whoever you want to be.”

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Somewhere you can be whoever you want to be does have advantages, however. Just ask Caron. Sharper is his first film – after a long and varied career in television. He’s come a long way.

“Getting into television was very hard,” he says. “We grew up in a pub in the Black Country, near Stourbridge. So the idea of becoming a film director wasn’t something anyone spoke about. We went to Merry Hill to the local cinema once a week because they advertised in the pub and we got two free tickets. It feels so far from that to making my first film.”

Sharper is in select cinemas and on Apple TV+

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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