A love story set within the world of grifters and cons, is the subject explored in Focus, written and directed by Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa (Bad Santa, Crazy Stupid Love). A slick world, loaded with fancy cars, pretty people, expensive jewelry and of course, the rattle of money counters. A seasoned veteran of this game, Nicky (Will Smith) takes a young eager ‘intern’, Jess (Margot Robbie) under his wing, and the two immediately connect as she learns the fine arts of pick-pocketing, and the long con.
But here’s the problem I had with Focus. Despite the slick visuals, cool soundtrack and decent performances from Smith and Robbie, I was never fully able to buy this premise. Sure, a purse could be lifted from a woman’s open bag. That I can believe. But taking a watch off a man’s wrist without him noticing? Not likely. Faking a medical emergency to rob patrons at a restaurant? Okay that’s just ridiculous! And even though these decently shot scenes were kinda fun, I couldn’t accept these characters as the supposed ‘heroes’ of this story. Since most of the people they were robbing during the first act were regular people minding their own business. I don’t know about you, but I personally have a hard time connecting and rooting for thieves.
Casually talking about how to quickly steal someones watch, wallet or even their identity. Are we supposed to care about Nicky and Jess? Because from where I was sitting, I was kinda-hoping something bad would happen to them. It’s not like most of their victims deserved this treatment. And as a recent victim of identity theft (someone tried to buy an iPhone 6 with my hard earn cash), I found myself unmoved by this couples struggles.
Call me old-fashioned or overly moralistic, but I just don’t think a believable love connection is possible when the two people tangoing can’t trust each other. And this movie, as it constantly tries to one-up itself, keeps flipping each con around and gets so ridiculous, that it’s just not worth trying to guess who’s conning who, because no one can be trusted. And where’s the fun in that?
This is slickly made, and the script has some limited sparkle, so if you enjoy stories about grifters, then this may be worth your time. Will Smith and Margot Robbie turn in decent performances, and the movie certainly isn’t dull. Focus is rated R for limited sexual content, language and violence.
This film looks great, so I recommend a matinee screening if you’re interesting in seeing it. If you wait for the rental (I would, knowing what I know now), then a HD screening on a nice TV is your best option.
Best Moment: << mild spoiler >>
Nicky gives Jess a quick lesson in the art of misdirection and pick-pocketing, and while talking to her, manages to repeatedly steal items out of her pockets. It gets a little ridiculous, but it’s a nicely written scene, and the two lead cast members work well together.