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Review: Focus

Warner Bros. Pictures: Will Smith and Margot Robbie in "Focus"Simply predicated on what’s expected, films surrounding con artists always have the potential to captivate its curious spectators. There’s a distinct chance that they will be able to pique your interest by painting a mosiac style feature with a charismatic figure shrewdly established as its designated protagonist. Due to its style and chosen lead, Focus is one of those features that hopes to be considered one of the fine films of that genre.

Starring Will Smith as Nicky, Focus tells the story of a man who was born into the world of the con. For those like him, the game appears to be as natural as waking up in the morning, but for others, a drastic amount of work needs to be done in order to achieve such credible skill. This is where the bond between he and Jess (Margot Robbie) starts to take shape. She’s a young woman looking to improve on her skill and master the art of deception and misdirection.

After spending some time with her, Nicky believes she has what it takes to join his extensive team of hustlers. He continues to teach her the ropes, but abruptly breaks it off for a reason that only he understands. This appears to work in his favor until he runs into her three years later in Buenos Aires. He seemed to move on from her, but now, her beauty and skill could throw him off his game and destroy one the largest cons he’s ever taken part in if he’s unable to maintain his focus.

Although movies about capers are generally complex, Focus turns out to be a thin affair that finds a way to underwhelm in ways that you wouldn’t assume. Based on the advertisements that we’ve been seeing during the months leading up to its release, I was anticipating a complicated picture filled with intricate details that had the potential to stimulate viewers intellectually. However, that’s not what is seen here as the vast majority of the film is brought forth in a straightforward fashion that disappointed me to an extent.

Throughout Focus, I kept my attention on the screen waiting for some of those twists and turns to show themselves. Waiting for those things allowed me to stay interested in what I was watching even though I continuously realized that I wasn’t getting what the film’s slick marketing campaign had originally promised to deliver to audiences. There is some trickery, but it’s either very upfront or isn’t revealed until after the hustle is over. There are no hints or subtly in any of it.

The most interesting portions of Focus come from the early segments of the film when Nicky and his crew find themselves in New Orleans for a Super Bowl like event. This is actually where we get the majority of the scams that we see in the film. If you watch the commercials, you’ll probably notice most of the chicanery and deception that they’re showing during those thirty or so seconds are from that period in the film.

That stuff provides a great deal of entertainment for the audience, but everything drops a couple of levels once they decide the party from the streets of New Orleans over to the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. This is where you start to see the weaknesses in this feature become more exposed. At this point, they’re not relying on the con game to be the feature’s foundation anymore. As a matter of fact, the criminal elements becomes somewhat of an afterthought during this period.

After leaping into these events where Nicky introduces us to a new game with new targets, Focus not only changes the landscape, it also shifts in terms of its focus. That’s because the foundation of the film turns almost completely toward the love story. Because of this, the story as a whole runs quite thin since there’s almost nothing else being showcased while the romantic desires are being placed on center stage.

More attention being given to the con that’s going on during this time could have prevented the drop off in entertainment that’s experienced.

One thing that was a little surprising to me at first was seeing Will Smith not being able to pull off the role of the incredibly suave conman as well as I figured he would. He’s decent at it, but an actor with a bit more charisma for adult audiences could have turned this up a few notches as far as style and cinematic temperament. Maybe a younger Denzel Washington would have been able to accomplish that. That’s been one of his main staples since forever, so he would have probably been the number one choice if this had been made years ago.

I also have to point out that in spite of her significance to the film, Margot Robbie is actually very underutilized. The reason for this is because her character isn’t what we’re led to believe it is going to be. In short, she turns out to be there for visual effects more than anything if you know what I mean. I thought she would mean more in the grand scheme of it all, but they clearly had other plans. That’s disappointing since adding more to her character could have assisted in turning a decent flick into a great time at the movies.

In spite of the obvious flaws that it contains, I do find Focus to be decent in enough areas to carry you all the way to its conclusion without boring you to the point where you’ll regret watching it. While it’s not what I envisioned, this stylish movie turns out to be fine. Taking that, and blending it in with Smith’s ability to pull off a few of the things that he’s known for gives us something that can be described as an okay ride.

Score: 3/5

Rating: R

Glenn Ficarra
John Requa

Will Smith
Margot Robbie
Rodrigo Santoro
Gerald McRaney
Robert Taylor
BD Wong
Dominic Fumusa
Brennan Brown
Griff Furst
Adrian Martinez
Alfred Tumbley

Film Length: 105 minutes

Release Date: February 27, 2015

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures