Surprisingly enjoyable in spite of its flaws, Focus almost 'cons' you into having a good time.
March 09, 2015
The latest addition to the ‘rom-con’ genre by writer/director duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid Love), Focus is a surprisingly enjoyable film in spite of its flaws. With the audience guided early on by the Grifter’s Mantra — "Never break focus. Die with the lie." — it’s one where you’re persistently trying to anticipate the next twist and deconstruct every line to reveal its true meaning, only to find yourself constantly (and refreshingly) wrong.
Fronting the film is Will Smith in a role that at last plays to his strengths of charm and wit rather than the physical kind (like so many of his recent, ill-conceived outings). Smith plays Nicky, a lifelong conman at the top of his game who one night finds himself the target of the aspiring but guileless gonif Jess (Margot Robbie). Sensing her potential, however, Nicky shows Jess the ropes and invites her to join his crew in New Orleans as they take on the unsuspecting hordes during Superbowl week. From then on, Focus buffets you with twists, deceptions and double-crosses with such marked regularity that you’re never quite sure where you stand.
Key to its appeal is the chemistry between Smith and Robbie, simmering deliciously back and forth between master and apprentice, lover and temptress. Robbie’s sex appeal is undeniable, but here — unlike in The Wolf of Wall Street — it’s treated as a playful trait rather than her raison d’etre, even going so far as to make her character spectacularly bad at the art of seduction. It’s a refreshing angle and one that allows Robbie to showcase her genuine acting chops.
Solid performances from Smith and Robbie notwithstanding, it’s the secondary characters, however, who ultimately prove the scene stealers (or should that be grifters?). Rodrigo Santoro (Love Actually) makes for a convincing billionaire playboy come Formula 1 team owner, BD Wong is almost unrecognisable as a cashed-up gambler with a near-sexual response to wagers, and Adrian Martinez delivers a laugh a line as Smith’s long-time accomplice ‘Farhad'.
The highlight, though, is Gerald McRaney (House of Cards) in a role that very much channels his iconic Major Dad character from the early '90s. Playing Santoro's interminably suspicious bodyguard, he at one point delivers a sublime rant on today’s youth, covering off everything from lazy Sundays to panini and — best of all — “Sarcasm: another pillar of your generation. If you don’t like somebody’s jacket, don’t say ‘Hey nice jacket’, say ‘Fuck off’”.
Overall, Focus might not match the sophistication of Ocean’s Eleven or the passion of The Thomas Crown Affair, but it’s an enjoyable enough distraction whose only real major letdown is an unnecessarily twisty ending.
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