When one thinks of a con movie, the memorable performance of the spirited Robert Redford in The Sting instantly comes to mind, followed by Clooney’s portrayal of a slick hustler in Ocean’s Eleven. But for writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, Will Smith will not be joining the ranks of Redford and Clooney in this forgettable part-romantic comedy, part-heist movie. That’s not to say, however, that Focus isn’t entertaining or that Smith isn’t familiarly charismatic as a swindling master thief – it’s just not entertaining or charming enough to warrant a second viewing.
The directing duo behind Crazy Stupid Love establish a double-crossing relationship between small-time hustler Jess (Margot Robbie) and seasoned conman Nicky (Smith) from the opening scene. As they flirtatiously try and outsmart each other, with shots channelling Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, the question of who is conning who becomes the focus of Focus. The first half of the film is not dissimilar to watching a Derren Brown show as Ficarra and Requa make sure Nicky teaches the art of misdirection and the power of suggestion as accurately as possible to Jess. More of this is what would have made Focus a pretty good movie. The star of the film is a ten-minute sequence at the Superdome in which a neurotic billionaire (BD Wong) challenges Nicky to a high-stakes bet. The scene quickly builds up into one of the most accomplished and suspenseful moments of the film.
However, Focus strangely changes pace at the halfway point as it jumps ahead three years. Nicky and Jess have gone their separate ways but happen to find themselves in the same circle again – involving a race car con in Buenos Aires. This time, they’ve both supposedly changed. Have they? Are they double-crossing one another? Do we really care? Although Smith and Robbie have an electric chemistry onscreen, the lack of character development from both makes it hard for us to ever really care about where their relationship ends up. The second half of Focus seems almost like a poor imitation of the first.
Ficarra and Requa are so obsessed with conning the audience that the narrative structure ultimately suffers. The grand reveal is illogically far-fetched and ruins the gravity of the film. In spite of this, Focus is fun if you are willing to let go of all coherency and lose yourself in a world of glamorous people.
Focus was released nationwide on 27th February 2015.
Watch the trailer for Focus here: