A familiar con in a modern setting
The problem with any movie about conmen is that there are no new tricks, we’ve pretty much seen them all over the years.Focus tries to bring a modern twist to some of its cons with card swiping and computer hacking but ultimately it’s all about gambling, lying, misdirection and some nifty sleight of hand. So the film will ultimately win or lose on the charm of its leading man, the looks of its leading lady and the quality of its screenplay. Luckily it delivers on all three.
Will Smith is back to his charming best as conman Nicky Spurgeon. He meets Jess Barrett, played by Margot Robbie, when she tries to con him and decides to take her under his wing. Robbie is on a roll since her break-through performance in The Wolf of Wall Street and she follows that up with another alluring performance here.
The screenplay by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who also co-directed the film, isn’t going to throw too many surprises your way but there are plenty of jokes and the film remains entertaining. Most of the plot twists are fairly obvious and the ending partly rips off The Sting but the film still manages to deliver a satisfying conclusion, even if the narrative could have used a bit more misdirection itself.
It’s pleasing to see Will Smith back on form after a series of misfires, he was once the most bankable star in Hollywood but bombs like After Earth have dented that image. Focus is also the first R-rated movie that Smith has appeared in since Bad Boys II twelve years ago and it’s rewarding to find the actor working with more adult content.
It certainly makes Smith’s upcoming role as Deadshot in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad all the more promising; it will be interesting to see what the actor does with that role. Coincidentally Margot Robbie will also be appearing in Suicide Squad as Harley Quinn and we look forward to seeing what the Australian actress can bring to role of The Joker’s girlfriend.
Focus has plenty of star power but the screenplay lacks enough misdirection to pull off its own con.
Focus isn’t Ficarra and Requa’s first film about conmen, their debut feature was the Jim Carrey vehicle I Love You Philip Morris; so they clearly know their turf and the various tricks and scams are all well researched. The pair also wrote and directed Crazy, Stupid, Love with Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling, who was originally supposed to star in this film. In fact Focus went through quite a few casting decisions before finally landing Smith and Robbie.
The supporting cast all perform well with Adrian Martinez getting some of the biggest laughs as fellow conman Farhad, whilst Brennan Brown also pops up as part of Nicky’s crew. BD Wong plays a rich Chinese gambler, whilst Rodrigo Santoro (300: Rise of an Empire) turns up as Garriga, a billionaire race car owner who is Nicky’s latest mark. Finally there’s Gerald McRaney (House of Cards) as Owens, Garriga’s hard as nails head of security.
The film was shot in New York, New Orleans and Buenos Aires, giving the production a glossy and suitably international presence but it does feel like one long product placement at times. Although since the protagonists spend most of the film stealing luxury items, that would be hard to avoid. Focus will probably do well on the back of its cast and premise but lacks enough originality to be more than a mildly entertaining night out.
You can buy Focus Blu-ray Here
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