The main reason why I was interested to see the new heist thriller Focus is mainly because I wanted to see how well Academy Award nominee Will Smith and Margot Robbie worked together on account they will star in the upcoming comic book adaptation Suicide Squad. Another reason is because there seemed to be nothing else premiering at the movies this weekend and I wanted to venture out into the cold and snowy world to see something worthwhile.
Was seeing Focus worth it? Was it worth traversing into the wintry realm of the greater Manhattan area to see if life still went on?
Well going out to see Focus was worth it. When you are cooped in the house because of inclement weather, you look for any means worthy of escape. The movie itself? Not so much.
Glen Ficarra and John Requa’s crime dramedy stars Smith as veteran con-artist Nicky Spurgeon, a third generation hustler who knows every trick of the trade of swindling, gambling, pick-pocketing and con-artistry. Before Nicky implements his plan to strike large at a major sporting event in New Orleans, he encounters the beautiful Jess who has an aptitude for the art of criminality and Nicky takes her under his wing, and then some.
Three years after New Orleans, Nicky is plotting grand heist against the backdrop of Buenos Aires trying to swindle an arrogant race-car driver out of a valuable asset. All of a sudden, Jess emerges and throws Nicky off his game, on account of their history together, which proves to be dangerous because Nicky has to get out before the heist becomes complex beyond control.
Essentially, this movie sells itself on the on-screen chemistry between the two stars. The supporting cast around Smith and Robbie, including B.D. Wong, Adrian Martinez, Rodrigo Santorro and Gerald McRaney, don’t exactly contribute much except brief periods of levity in a very dull and uninspiring heist movie.
Ficarra and Requa’s story has touches of intelligence and humor behind it, but it is no different or superior to every movie in its genre. Nothing about Focus really takes its audiences and inspires them to really pay attention. Even the twist at the end, when Nicky’s estranged dad emerges from the shadows and saves the day, loses its power because it feels like a cheat that is quite unnecessary.
This movie is selling itself on Smith and Robbie and they work nicely together even though the material they are given does not really amount to much. Smith has become an actor who can draw in audiences, give them something satisfactory to go home with and at the end of the day he is paid handsomely for his work; that works for him and it works in this movie.
Nicky Spurgeon has depth to his character. He is the prototypical con-artist, brilliant, devious, charming, gullible and he essentially is the driving force of the film.
Robbie’s Jess is the doughy-eyed protege/teacher’s pet to Smith’s Nicky. She is the little blind mouse of the movie (that is a term that you will understand if you actually see it), she is the eye-candy that pretties up the scenes, she is a good actor who gets what she wants and she holds her own against her mentor.
From a technical standpoint, Focus is relatively safe. Xavier Grobet’s cinematography is pleasant, but comes away as rather straightforward and cliche, there are moments when the scene is out of focus then goes back into focus for a certain purpose or another relative to the moment in question, Jan Kovac’s editing is unworthy of praise yet it doesn’t exactly condemn the film either, the use of music however is one of the high points of the film.
The soundtrack for Focus and the music of Nick Urata is perhaps the one thing I take away as a positive for the movie. The sound quality is difficult to ignore and there are times when the visual and audio sync up to create a moment. For example the “car accident” sequence, when the actor prepares himself to ram into Nicky’s car, with the helmet, the mouth-guard, and the neck brace and the car accelerates and the engine is just roaring into the moment when the collision occurs; that is perhaps the first genuine film moment of the year I’ve seen thus far.
Anyway, the most important thing I take away from a movie like Focus is that there are lessons you can learn in this movie that can keep you from getting conned. For example, sporting events like the Super Bowl are a prime target for con-artists to take advantage of what they call “easy marks,” they specialize in making a sucker look on way, while they are focused on the other direction, they can influence events, I hope you get the message.
Anyway, audiences can attempt to focus through Focus but they won’t find anything worthwhile. There is entertainment value but it doesn’t amount to much.