Directors: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, BD Wong, Gerald McRaney
Written by: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Running Time: 104 mins
Release date: 27th February 2015
Can you believe that the last time we saw Will Smith, it was being all serious in the dire After Earth? Well now he is back, using all the charm that made him famous to win us over in Focus, a con artist film from the guys who brought us I Love You, Philip Morris and Crazy, Stupid, Love. Is it a film that stays in focus? Not quite.
Nicky “Mellow” Spurgeon is a highly accomplished confidence trickster. He runs a tight machine of crooks who head to large events to con, rob and steal off the unsuspecting public, building up a huge profit in the process. Into his life comes Jess, a small-time con artist who is desperate to learn the trade from Nick. The trouble is, however, there is an attraction between the two and love should never interfere with business. Especially when Nick has a big con involving the motor industry.
Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s film is a slick, well-polished machine, crammed with smart suits, beautiful women and expensive cars. It allows us to enter the world of the con without upsetting or offending our eyes. It also moves along at a nice, smooth pace without too many bumps along the way.
However, this is a film of two halves. The first we get to enjoy the light-fingerness of the con artists as they move among a large American Football crowd to pick-pocket the unsuspecting, while building up an impressive array of items and cash, equating over $1 million. A sequence as the gang move among the excitable fans, taking everything they can from the passer-bys is done with a polished professionalism.
It then moves to a central sequence where the film makers play a real trump card. A nail-biting scene involving Nick virtually throwing his ill-gotten gains away at the football match. It’s a masterstroke that promises so much for the remainder of the film. Unfortunately this is where the film fails. After this tremendous scene, the rest of the movie is a bit of an anticlimax.
The last half of the film involves a con about motor racing, in which Nick has to convince a rival team that he has a stolen part that will bring a much faster car. An interesting concept but doesn’t hold the same level of attention or, for that matter, excitement as that central moment. It also proves problematic in the tone of the piece. What starts off as a light, fluffy comedy suddenly gets dark and it battles between the witty and the vicious.
Then there’s the love story that hangs around throughout. This part certainly doesn’t work and it’s not the fault of the performers, more the script, which occasionally becomes laboured and disjointed. We never know if this is real or another con and so it becomes almost unbelievable.
It seems a long time since we’ve seen Will Smith playing that cock-sure charmer we’ve seen in the likes of Hitch and Bad Boy. As Nick, he oozes magnetism and you can understand how he has become a master at his trade. He still hasn’t lost his ability to deliver a one-liner with that boyish agreeableness.
Margot Robbie, who made such an impression as Leonardo DiCaprio’s love interest in The Wolf Of Wall Street, gets a top billing as the naive yet empowering Jess, managing to hold her own, in every sense, against Smith. Even though she is very easy on the eye and you do feel she is more like a clothes horse, she still has created a nicely rounded character that gives Smith more than a run for his money.
Focus is a well-made slice of entertainment but it doesn’t always hit the heights of other con artist films such as The Sting and is surprisingly forgettable. After the central con, it does have nowhere else to go, leaving the final part a little too predictable and, frankly, dull. A bit of a mess in tone and a little undisciplined, it is nice, however, to see Will Smith back on form.