By Gary Murray
Starring Will Smith, Margo Robbie and Rodrigo Santoro
Written and directed by Glen Ficarra and John Requa
Running time 104 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Will Smith is one of the biggest stars in the Hollywood sky. Some of his greatest cinematic achievements have been Independence Day, Men in Black and I am Legend. He has a world-wide box office appeal that attracts millions of movie patrons. His latest is a con-man adventure entitled Focus.
The story concern Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith). He is an accomplished con-man and hustler. When we first see him, he is doing what he does best, conning his way into a fancy restaurant. He watches a woman Jess (Margot Robbie) being pawed by a drunken bar patron. During the confrontation, she lifts his watch. Then, she ‘cute meets’ Nicky and they eventually go to her room.
Jess pulls the ‘boyfriend with a gun’ scam which Nicky doesn’t buy for a second. He schools them on how to do the con correctly. Jess knows that she has witnessed a master practicing his craft and she wants to be a part of his world. One must “get focus to take whatever you want.”
The first third of the film is about low-level high volume crimes during Super Bowl week in New Orleans. After they work all the cons, Nicky has a bag of money. The two go to the game and befriends a Japanese businessman who has a perchance to gamble. Jess finds out that Nicky is the ultimate liar to everyone he meets and you can never trust a man who lies for a living. The second third of the film takes place during the big game. She finds out that she is the “little blind mouse” in the con and Nicky leaves her soon after the swindle has happened.
We flash forward three years and Nicky is pulling another scam with Formula-1 racecars. At a big party, Jess walks into the room, busting out of a too small red dress. All the old feelings come back and Jess seems to be running a scam of her own. The last third of the film is the reigniting of the flame. Or maybe it is just a con that she is a part of. The film twists and turns, keeping the audience guessing to the very last frame.
Will Smith lost a lot of shine with After Earth, one of the worst films of the year. This is a step back in the right direction. Although, he is a leading man, he is not really a romantic leading man. The scenes where he may or not may be in love are at best clumsy and generate little heat. He would have been better off romancing an alien than romancing Margot Robbie.
On the other side, Margot Robbie shows that she is more than just a pretty face. The trophy wife from Wolf of Wall Street proves that she can carry the load of a major motion picture. Not only is she stunning but she is totally believable as the little fish in a big fish world. Going toe to toe with the much lauded thespian, she never wavers in emotional tone. This is a definite step toward stardom.
The film is directed by Glen Ficarra and John Requa; the team behind I Love You Phillip Morris and Crazy, Stupid Love. Focus is a major departure for the duo and the strongest work of their young careers. The two weave and bob between comedy and intrigue with a master’s touch. This is a fun little caper, not on the level of The Sting, but still a fun little romp.
Focus is not a great film but it a fun little flick to warm a cold winter day. It is much better than one expects but not a top ten film of the year. It is enjoyable but also in the end, a bit forgettable.