Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the directors best known for Crazy Stupid Love and I Love You Philip Morris create Focus, perhaps their most generic and least interesting film to date. It is a movie about a professional con man Nicky Spuregon, played by Will Smith, who seems desperate to recover his career after that debacle that was 2013’s After Earth. Nicky works with a league of fellow con artists, but he’s open to the idea of taking on an apprentice in the form of Jess (Margot Robbie, from The Wolf of Wall Street). Meeting Jess in an upscale New York restaurant, Nicky becomes attracted to Jess because she tried to pull a con job on him. Obviously the con failed, but Nicky sees potential in her abilities and starts teaching her the tricks of their trade. Their romance blooms and becomes the central plot of the film.
As Nicky and Jess go through on and off periods of their relationship, the film, pardon the pun, loses its focus. It gets caught between a romantic dramedy and a poor man’s heist movie. We never get to know either character well enough to become invested in them as their lack of backstory makes their relationship feel forced. The cons also strike me as being perfectly timed. You never get a sense that the execution of their con jobs may go wrong. Thus, the movie lacks energy. Focus doesn’t come close to the kind of suspense seasoned movie goers have come to expect from say a Alfred Hitchcock film like To Catch a Thief, which perfectly balanced romance with con jobs. A better con job movie would be Ocean’s Eleven starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt among others.
My favourite sequence in Focus is a slightly lengthier scene where a New Orleans businessman (BD Wong) has a face off with Nicky over a series of bets, in which he eggs Nicky on to make an impulsive bet. It was the most fascinating scene in the movie because it was the only time I felt Nicky was vulnerable, or actually willing to take a bigger risk. That being said it was probably the only time I really wanted to see Nikki win. But then the film narrows on another con job involving the secret of a race car circuit. Here the movie switches back to typical generic plotting as the employers require a “unique skill set that only Nicky can offer them.” However again it seems to be timed perfectly going with the tone of the film.
One thing I did enjoy was seeing the city of Buenos Aries and how pretty it looked. The scenes reminded me of looking through pictures of some one’s travel diary. I also enjoyed some of the special effects used in the lighting to fade in and out of scenes. Will Smith and Margot Robbie both performed well, although they’ve been better and far more interesting in other movies. Let’s hope they have more chemistry together in the Suicide Squad movie next year. Overall I felt the film needed a lot more thought put into the story. It seemed as though it rushed its way to the ending, hitting all the formulaic plot points and doing nothing new. It did have some potential but it wasn’t used well and it left me with a feeling of wanting more.