If there’s one thing that Focus succeeds at more than anything else, it’s making the crime of robbing people blind look like a glamourous art form. Veteran grifter, Nicky, (Will Smith) has built a successful career out of a being a professional con artist and the young, green (Jess) is only too eager to mimic his life’s work.
Jess is quickly recruited by Nicky and his crew in New Orleans. Her ‘audition’ is a brilliantly orchestrated series of pick-pocketing scams on the street of New Orleans; a seamless, fluid sequence that is easily one of the film’s most impressive. Like many other male con men to have graced the screen, Will Smith’s Nicky is charmingly cocky and a little on the wrong side of arrogant. Jess could have easily been the ornamental set piece or the underdeveloped femme fatale, but Margot Robbie, while typically beautiful, imbues her with the right amount of vulnerable naivety and easy humour.
I would have thought that Will Smith and Margot Robbie would be an odd match (Smith is eighteen years older) but the two play off one another quite well and I genuinely enjoyed the mentor/mentee quality of their relationship before they predictably become lovers. There’s an almost untouchable quality to Nicky’s high-stakes profession, and it’s easy to understand why Jess, and the viewer by extension, would find all of the slick deception so seductive.
As Jess and Nicky’s relationship grows messier, Focus tended to get bogged down by their romance, bringing me to my next point that the film can’t seem to decide what genre it wants to be. There’s the obvious element of crime, even a splash of drama, but I’ve also seen Focus labelled as a comedy. There is a lot of banter between the two leads and several moments of comic relief provided by the cheerfully crass Farhad (Adrian Martinez), but Focus is merely a love story masquerading as a crime comedy. Smith and Robbie are charming enough to anchor the film, but their romance was hardly the most compelling aspect of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s script.
The film begins to falter when it tries too hard to con the audience itself, and the last third of Focus gets caught in a seemingly endless loop of misdirection. One of the earliest scenes in the film involves Nicky giving Jess step-by-step instructions on how to successfully pick-pocket a person, his point being that the human brain cannot multitask, and that once you have somebody’s focus, they will be distracted enough that you can’t take whatever you want from them. Focus flat out tells the audience that they are going to be repeatedly mislead for the next hundred minutes, and though I often did enjoy the copious amount of twists, by the end of the film they had lost some of their punch.
Although Focus doesn’t have anything particularly new or inventive to say about the work of professional con artists, it is easy to get caught up in their enticing world of fraudulent crime for a short while.
Review by Tegan Lyon
#Make sure you are listening to The Novastream Movies Lounge on Friday night for Tegan & Alaisdair’s in-depth discussion on Focus