MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Focus’ Swindles And Fizzles

Focus-Movie-Review-Photo

Film: Focus
Directed by: John Requa & Glenn Ficarra
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Adrian Martinez

Will Smith has gone on record to discredit his last big gig, After Earth, as a failure that broke his heart. That heartbreak may be due to the fact that Smith’s charming, fast-talking brand of comedy wasn’t able to reign free in Shyamalan’s bleak and dour landscape. With Focus, Smith seems to haven’t skipped a beat as the entertaining performer we all remember him for being. Immediately at an advantage with the accompaniment of Margot Robbie as the main love interest, Focus is a welcome return to form for Smith even though the swindling and conning taking place gets a bit tiresome in the final act.

Nicky Spurgeon (Smith) is an experienced con man about to set out on another one of his high-stake schemes. After meeting novice swindler Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie), Nicky’s life of cynicism and dangerous gambling stops dead in its tracks. Immediately drawn romantically to Jess, Nicky distances himself in fear that he may hurt her. Running into Jess a few years later during the production of another con, Nicky is thrown off his game and must find a way to accomplish his scheme while saving the one he loves.

Margot Robbie exploded onto the screen in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, playing the vivacious wife of Jordan Belfort. With Focus, the Aussie actress gets the chance to prove that she is no one-hit wonder. And prove she does. Despite some contrivances in the plot that belittle her character’s skills in favor of Smith’s, Robbie seems to be having a tremendous amount of fun as a femme-fatale with smarts to boot.

The biggest flaw of the film lies directly on the story. In the first half of Focus, the story centers in on one big con that Nicky is conducting. In the second half, things shift to another con. The slight here is that the second half of the film mimics the same raising stakes that the first half inhabits. Whether it is Nicky’s reluctance to keep putting himself in precarious positions or Jess’ terrified composure every single time danger is looming, things get increasingly familiar as the film moves along. Something else to note as well: due to the constant rug pulling and unpredictability that Focus decides to implement, you may get tired out. When Nicky and Jess keep trying to find out each other’s ulterior motives, hoping that it somehow ends up in shared love, the film’s true colors are shown. Focus isn’t a meaty reflection on love. It’s a film that replicates what its marketing slogans may say. Is love the real con here? Who knows? I don’t care and you may not either.

When Smith starts quickly throwing out verbal quips about Robbie’s curves in the beginning of the film, you can tell that the actor is trying to return to more playful and less serious fare. Sure, the inflated ego of his character is a common thread in all of Smith’s performances, but he’s evidently having so much fun that you can’t help but enjoy along with him. Replacing loud rants that usually inhabit Smith’s roles are little anecdotes about the types of cons his character pulls off. One more term for a crazy con he pulled off and the foreshadowing would have come off extremely blunt.

Directing/writing duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa who collaborated on 2009’s I Love You Phillip Morris, try to bring the same balance of drama and comedy that their earlier project displayed so well. For the most part, Focus can award the ease its tonal shifts represent to its talented cast. Smith is a master at it. Robbie is experienced. Comedic actor Adrian Martinez provides some hearty laughs as Nicky’s overweight friend, Farhad. Gerald McRaney, an actor known to play stern and volatile characters to a tee, even gets to play a riff off of his career norm with the expletive-slinging Owens. Ficarra and Requa even have a ton of fun showing off their narrative. Their constant use of rack focus may be blunt, but so is the rest of the film.

In the end, Focus is in it for the long con. Everything from the story to the love story are surface level tropes, but the talent in front and behind the camera are so convinced that this is all fun that you can’t help but join along. Try not to think critically deep about this one and you may find yourself completely satiated. After all, Smith and Robbie are no Newman and Redford, so don’t pretend like they have to be.

GRADE: C+

Review written by Sam Cohen (follow him on Twitter!)

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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