Take a Drink: each time Nicky says, “Focus.”
Take a Drink: each time Jess says, “Nicky.”
Do a Shot: every time Jess makes a joke that creates a laugh.
Shogun a Beer: when you endure a montage that’s longer than three minutes. Get your stopwatch!
By: Amelia Solomon (Two Beers) –
Focus is your classic con caper film starring Will Smith and Margo Robbie. Nicky (Will Smith) is a successful and talented con man who oversees an orchestra of petty thieves that strike on naive tourists during major American events like the Super Bowl. They pick-pocket wallets and watches from the masses, giving them an over one million dollar payday for one week of work. When Jess (Margo Robbie) tries to pull a simple con on Nicky but fails, he takes her under his wing and teaches her the art of fine burglary.
Unfortunately for Jess, she’s no match for Nicky, and like any good mark she gets used. It’s not until three years later that they meet up by happenstance, and the “Big Con” begins to unfold, keeping the viewer guessing as to who is on top of their game and who the best artist in the land of crime is.
Focus is well casted, and Will Smith is a bankable star who’s already proven his ability to carry a film and deliver large box-office numbers. Smith has played the role of super suave man with alluring charm before, in films like Bad Boys, Men in Black, and Hitch. He’s also demonstrated his dramatic skills in The Pursuit of Happiness and Seven Pounds. With such a varied filmography we know he’s come a long way from his hit television show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which made him a household name. So it’s no surprise that in the role of Nicky, Smith is both smooth and vulnerable in every scene. He gives his character depth and it’s never one note.
There’s no denying that Margo Robbie and Smith have chemistry, and it’s almost a sin that the film never shows their sex scenes because they would have sizzled. With an R rating, I actually scratched my head as to why the film wasn’t PG-13. But what’s more important is that Robbie has now proven her ability to be a leading lady. The young Aussie first turned heads when she wowed audiences in the role of Naomi Lapaglia in The Wolf of Wall Street. She played Jordan Belfort’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) second wife; at first glance just another blond bimbo that an “I want it all” man couldn’t resist. But she held power over Belfort and exhibited control over her husband in a few unforgettable scenes. Therefore, I had hoped that Robbie would be more than just a man’s girlfriend. My wish was granted, because Robbie brought to Jess a different kind of allure than she brought to Naomi. In this film she’s not in control and doesn’t solely rely on her sex appeal to get what she wants. She’s mesmerizing when she’s on screen, and after this film I’d like to see her in a serious drama and take on a more intricate role, because I believe she’s capable.
Focus also has some wonderful supporting characters, filled by actors Gerald McRaney as Owens and Rodrigo Santoro as Garriga. It was a pleasant surprise to see the venerable Simon and Simon star appear in Focus, and deliver some of his House of Cards realness.
Cinematographer Xavier Grobet paints Focus with a brilliantly vivid color palette that dazzles the eyes and awakens the senses. You won’t be asking yourself, “is that dress white and gold or blue and black?”, because you’ll know the answer. Grobet showcases the French Quarter of New Orleans during Mardi Gras so outstandingly that I wanted to get on Kayak.com and book my flight as soon as the credits rolled, and I hate crowds, especially crowds of drunken people. When the film moves to Buenos Aires, Argentina, during the second half, Grobet hammers home his Director of Photography talents. Vibrant reds and blues make the city sites pop, and it certainly surpasses any shots of Paris I’ve seen, in previous films, as the benchmark of beauty.
I had some trouble with the tone of the film. Focus is a soft thriller about criminals who make stealing look cool. It’s about pulling one over on the rich, and it also reminds us why business and love often don’t mix. But Focus made me laugh, and not at the film, but with it. Mostly through Jess’s lines, the audience is made to chuckle. Her jokes are funny and they work. However, that doesn’t mean they were necessary. It often distracted from the tension the film’s trying to evoke, pulling the viewer out of the various schemes we’re being asked to focus on. The result is that the film seems like it’s not sure if it’s a caper or a comedy. I wondered if there was a rewrite, and as it often happens in Hollywood, a comic writer may have been asked to do some touch-ups on the original draft, by directing and writing team Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, and if that’s the case, it was a mistake.
With very few plot holes, there’s not much else to find fault with in Focus. Although a common error that highly stylized films often make and that really annoyed me in this particular film was that Jess has full make-up on when she wakes up in the morning. We know she’s beautiful, but let’s try and keep it real, at least so us common folk can feel better about ourselves.
Film fanatics everywhere are mourning the loss of Oscar season. It means that most films are not very good. But they can be entertaining and not completely ridiculous (see all summer blockbusters). Focus exhibits movie prowess and it’s one up gambling scene, between Smith and BD Wong in a luxury skybox at the Super Bowl, is reason enough to see the film.