Focus (2015) – Film Review
Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro
by Jen Grimble
Ever since Paul Newman took on Robert Shaw in The Sting, hustler movies have oozed cool characters, beautiful women and cleverly devised schemes. Focus, the latest film to join the genre, mimics the format messily and excessively. The film, written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid Love), winds up as a semi-comedic romance. It lacks the prowess of the heist. Yet despite its faults, Focus has moments in which the gambles pay off.
Focus slots in somewhere between The Italian Job and How to Steal a Million. But it misses out on the charm and skill of both. Those films rely upon realistic characters and purposeful plots, whereas Focus depends on glamour and affluence. During several scenes the film shrinks to pick-pocketing lows. it completely forgets the cunning tricks that keep heist movies interesting. Once the scams actually develop, the story significantly improves.
Will Smith plays Nicky, a con-man with talent who meets Jess (Margot Robbie), a small-time rookie, in a luxury Manhattan hotel. Here she attempts to swindle him. After failing miserably, Jess talks Nicky into taking her under his wing. The couple become romantically involved, but after some impressive high-stake gambling at the New Orleans Super Bowl, they go their separate ways.
Some years later, Nicky is working on his latest scheme with F1 billionaire Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro). Coincidentally, he turns out to be Jess’s new man. Distracted by her unexpected arrival and plagued by the way their relationship ended, Nicky attempts to continue the job in hand; selling fake car parts to a rival racing team. The rest plays out as a game of double-crossing and triple-bluffs. We are unsure who is being played and who belongs to which side. All we do know is that Jess has become a pro who knows exactly how to play the game.
Oozing sex appeal and lavished with luxury hotels, caviar enriched parties and overt wealth, Focus is a slick but uncompromising portrayal of trickery and greed. Its lack of realism detracts from its overall success, but somehow Focus remains a fun, ambitious heist movie with strong performances and moments of clever deception. Robbie replicates the same spark she brought to The Wolf of Wall Street and likewise, Smith maintains his usual cool confidence, slotting into his role effortlessly. Both manage to remain half likeable thanks to the love story that links them; one of the only relatable themes in the entire movie.
In parts, Ficarra and Requa produce a sophisticated, charismatic and sharp heist flick. Yet in other moments, the superficial characters and the dwindling authenticity, takes the film in a futile direction. That is not to say that Focus is totally ineffectual, because it does offer flashes of comedy and intrigue, and as should be the case, the audience is always left guessing. Not the best, nor the worst film you will see this year, Focus is a semi-decent romp, with a slick cast and a chic opulence that is bound to seduce.