Directors: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Rodrigo Santoro
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: February 27th
Perhaps the best con a con-movie can perform is to trick the audience into thinking it’s not a con movie. Heading in to Focus, we keep one eye on the rug at all times, waiting for the film to finally pull it out from under us, a distraction from the genuine chemistry that its leading stars are effortlessly generating.
From the same writer/directors of Crazy Stupid Love, the cool-as-ice vibe has been transplanted on to their latest feature, along with some of its more general plot points. The handsome, expensively suited Nicky (Will Smith) takes the raw talent Jess (Margo Robbie) and moulds her into a tactical machine, but whereas previously it was for attracting the opposite sex, here it’s for slight-of-hand pickpocketing and low-yield conning.
When Nicky feels his attraction to Jess is distracting him from his work, he dumps her on the side of the road, and the movie jumps forward three years. Nicky is now working a multi-millionaire race-car enthusiast (Rodrigo Santoro), hoping to sell a fake version of a fuel injection formula to the mogul’s competitors. Then we’re introduced to Santoro’s new beau – Wouldn’t you know it? It’s Jess! – and Nicky is left reeling, trying to reignite his relationship with her while trying to figure out if she has her own long con in the works.
First and foremost, we cannot stress enough just how cool this movie is. A lot of movies try to be cool, and end up stinking of effort, but Focus is just … really damn cool. From the gorgeous cinematography and settings the movie brings us to, from the picturesque snowy banks of the opening scenes to the hustle and bustle of New Orleans right on through to the glamorous and gorgeous Buenos Aires, not to mention the drool inducing suits and gowns that Smith and Robbie are decked out in, everything is made to look as tantalizing as possible.
Then there’s the leading duo themselves, soon to be reunited for DC’s comic book villain mash-up Suicide Squad, and here laying some sexy groundwork with a level of crackling back-and-forth that almost consumes the screen with its charge. With two actors as talented and charismatic as these, the writers don’t let them down, as they are suitably supported by the sizzling screenplay that reaches its peak whenever the movie allows the two of them to just sit down and talk.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the rest of the movie’s plot, as the con that is central to it is not given nearly as much room to breathe, and nor are we given as much information to find it interesting. Much like the cheapest of con movies, the rug-pull doesn’t come from higher intelligence, but merely from keeping key items of information from the audience. “Bet you never seen that coming, did you?”, the movie seems to gloat. Well, no, we didn’t, because how could we?
As con-movies go, it’s neither as sexy as The Grifters, nor as smart as Matchstick Men, nor as emotionally involving as American Hustle. What it does have in spades is style, but unlike the art of the con, Focus shouldn’t rely on its looks alone.