The blog of Amon Warmann: Film journalist.

Film Review | Focus

Focus 2

★★★☆☆

Like the character he plays in Focus – the latest film from writer-director duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa , of Crazy, Stupid, Love fame – Will Smith is in need of a big score. Disappointing films such as After Earth and A New York Winter’s Tale failed to make the best use of his talents and yielded poor critical and box office results in the process. Thankfully, though it only half succeeds in the tricky balancing act between the con and the romance, Focus at least clears the low bar of being better than Smith’s recent fare.

Smith stars as seasoned conman Nicky Spurgeon, and at the film’s outset he is the witting victim of amateur con artist Jess (The Wolf of Wall Street’s Margot Robbie). Taking her under his wing the veteran teaches the newbie the tricks of the trade and Jess proves to be a quick study, but just as the pair begin to get close Nicky breaks it off. Three years later Jess re-enters Nicky’s life in the midst of his latest con, forcing both fraudsters to re-examine their relationship and priorities.

The most fun in Focus is derived from the appropriately slick cons themselves. To the film’s credit, even when we should perhaps know better there are times when we’re swept up in it regardless, and it’s exciting to watch it play out. Nowhere is this better illustrated than a sequence that takes place in an American Football bar, the details of which we won’t ruin but prove especially clever.

Focus

The main problem is the lack of focus (pun intended) on our protagonists’ morals. Even if it is sometimes explained away in a couple lines of dialogue, the characters in con films almost always have a philosophy regarding why they steal and who they steal from. Focus doesn’t give any lip service to this important detail, and with everyone from well-known gamblers to elderly doctors seemingly fair game the issue becomes harder to ignore the further the narrative progresses.

Indeed, if the title character were played by anyone other than Smith then Focus might have been a really hard sell, such are Nicky’s many unlikable traits. Conveniently, the role of smooth-talking conman is well within Smith’s wheelhouse and it’s great to see his on-screen charisma put to good use once more. The actor also shares palpable chemistry with Robbie – which bodes well for the upcoming Suicide Squad, in which they both star – and this is further indication if it was needed that The Wolf of Wall Street star is here to stay. The other standout in the ensemble is Adrian Martinez, who is frequently hilarious and steals many scenes as Farhad, Nicky’s confidant.

With that said, the three year time jump mid-film does the central romance no favours. All the momentum that had been building up to that point evaporates, and we get no answers about what’s happened in the interim. It all leads to a series of lacklustre reveals and a bloated finale that doesn’t quite resonate.

Though we’ve seen this type of film executed better before, Focus is a stylish and entertaining con caper, with a Fresh Prince who is finally back on form.

 

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