2015, R, 104 mins.
2015, R, 104 mins.
Will Smith as Nicky / Margot Robbie as Jess Barrett / Rodrigo Santoro as Gárriga / Robert Taylor as McEwen / Gerald McRaney as Ownes
Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
FOCUS is a new conman/caper film that revels in movie star glamour. The lead actors – Will Smith and Margot Robbie – are endlessly likeable, attractive, and charismatic presences on screen, so part of the pleasure of the film is seeing these gorgeous performers look good, exude movie star glamour, and essentially carry the proceedings. On these levels, FOCUS is mostly a success as an engaging and fulfilling popcorn film.
Alas, as a perceptive, cunning, and thrilling caper film, FOCUS feels a bit formless and haphazardly pasted together. Genre efforts like this get by considerably with their labyrinthine twists and turns in their respective plots, keeping the audience at an arm’s distance and leaving them guessing until the end. FOCUS gets a bit too bogged down in too much misdirection in its story, which culminates in some late breaking revelations that strain logic to the max and negatively impacted my overall enjoyment of the film.
somewhat disappointing, because Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (they
previously collaborated on the wonderful romcom CRAZY,
STUPID, LOVE) have crafted a fine looking film that matches the
attractiveness of their main stars. The
directing tandem is also on solid ground when it comes to crafting a
breezy atmosphere in their films that helps their stories buoyantly stay
afloat. The pair also knows how to use their performance assets well,
and Smith and Robbie – despite their two-decade age difference –
manage to generate a sort of effortless and unforced chemistry that gives
a strong foundation of interest in FOCUS.
Even though Smith is old enough to be Robbie’s father, they do
manage to come off as a credible on-screen couple.
That, and Smith – after a series of disastrous, near-career
derailing films like AFTER EARTH and WINTER’S
TALE – has not had an opportunity to be this affectionately
loose, free wheeling, and cocksure in a film in an awfully long time.
first 30-40 minutes of FOCUS are exemplarily well oiled and assured.
We are quickly introduced to Nicky (Smith), an master con artist of
the highest order that has a whole squadron of loyal workers that conspire
with him to steal as much loot as possible from strangers while remaining
anonymous…and often in broad daylight.
Unlike other conmen, Nicky isn't a man like Danny Ocean that has his
eyes set at the proverbial “big score."
No, Nicky thinks small, but big; he prefers many small robberies
that, on a cumulative level, add up to large payoffs.
In his mind, this helps him and his colleagues keep their criminal
activities out of the public eye. Everything
is going exceedingly well for Nicky…that is until Jess (Robbie) enters
is as stunning as a super model, but beneath her porcelain beauty lurks a
grifter at heart, which Nicky observes early on.
One of the best scenes in the film is an early one that showcases
Nicky flirtatiously showing the more raw and unskilled Jess the art of
theft and misdirection; within a few short seconds – and without her
knowledge – he lifts her watch, purse, and even manages to put his hand
on a part of her anatomy that would usually inspire a woman to slap the
culprit. Yet, Jess is enamored
with Nicky’s fluid and stealthy moves, and Nicky sees potential in having
Jess on his hustler squad. Jess
also has one ace up her sleeve that most people on Nicky’s team lack:
raw sex appeal. Her beauty
can be used for the purposes of quick distraction, which Nicky believes
can be cultivated further for the purposes of making more future scores.
taking Jess in as his protégé, Nicky decides to take her on some higher
profile thefts, one of which leads to the film’s bravura moment at the
Super Bowl in New Orleans as the pair try to swindle a drunk high roller
in luxury box seats (B.D. Wong) in a series of increasingly risky football
wagers. After that, it
becomes clear that Nicky is taking more than a professional interest in
Jess, and the feelings seem mutual for her as well.
Unfortunately, Nicky calls off any potential romantic fling
with her early on and unceremoniously boots her off his team.
Several years pass apart, but the two unavoidably do cross paths
South America, during which time Nicky preps a rather large heist against
a racecar mogul (Rodrigo Santoro) that appears to be romantically involved
with, yes, Jess. Complications,
predictably, ensure for everyone.
FOCUS is not to be savored for the complexity and intelligence of its
caper story elements, but rather for the appeal of its actors.
Smith and Robbie, as mentioned, are ridiculously good looking
people. We are instantly
engaged in Nicky and Jess right from the get-go and miraculously find a
manner of liking them, despite the fact that they are, when it boils right
down to it, duplicitous minded criminals that steal from innocent victims.
Smith can play macho swagger in his sleep and has done so for many
years in past roles, but his work in FOCUS just reinforces just how good
he is at it. Robbie, who gave a breakout performance as Leonardo
DiCaprio’s wife in THE WOLF OF
WALL STREET, is a rare kind of double threat actress.
Her innate cover girl beauty somewhat masks the fact that she’s a
pretty shrewd and headstrong performer with a knack for segueing between
comedy and drama. Few
actresses can dexterously marry sex appeal, tenacity, and vulnerability at
once, but Robbie can; she’s FOCUS’ secret weapon.
for as much performance good will that Smith and Robbie bring to FOCUS,
there’s simply no denying that the film overall is rather shapeless and,
for that matter, lacking in an overall plot.
The film is dissected into two parts, but beyond that we get very
little, if any, development of Nicky and Jess as characters, let alone any
embellishment of their respective pasts to make us truly become involved
in their plights later. Even
when the film skirts around the notion of “will they or won’t they”
get together, it all becomes rather redundant the longer the shapeless
story transpires. The film’s
ending is also a real humdinger as it races towards a confrontation
involving Nicky, Jess, and that dastardly racecar mogul (a really poorly
developed protagonist) that culminates in one party being precisely shot
– conveniently missing all vital organs to keep the person alive – and
a would-be surprising plot twist that’s more head scratching than
shocking when one considers the scenes that preceded the climax.
Caper films, to be sure, often live and breathe on the nature of
their unpredictable plot machinations, but FOCUS sort of delivers payoffs
at the end that border on laughably nonsensical.
I struggled with my review of this movie. My heart wants to recommend FOCUS, but my cold analytical mind can’t bring myself to do so. Smith is at his delectably arrogant best here and Robbie is a major star in the making that matches wits with her more experienced co-star with relative ease and poise. Everything else built around these two unendingly winning stars sorts of lays listlessly on the screen. Watching Smith and Robbie together certainly makes for a delightful experience, but deep down FOCUS is a con film of superficial thrills without a strong dramatic core deep down inside. I didn’t feel overtly swindled by seeing it, but considering the people in front of and behind the camera, I was not expecting something as relatively disposable as this film.