Style. Sexy. Class. Intelligence. Elegance.
These all describe the look and feel of Focus and this is exactly what writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa want you to feel. The elegance of the dress, the style of the suit and watch, the sexiness of the people around, the utter class of the individuals taking up the screen, and the intelligence of the two lead actors of anyone else that crosses their path.
This last point is important because while this movie does a solid job of being entertaining and engaging, it also falls down the rabbit hole of trying to be a lot smarter than the viewers and sometimes that misdirection can be dizzying and makes the last punch not worth the wait.
Focus follows Nicky (Will Smith), a con-man who runs into Jess (Margot Robbie), who wants him to take her under his wing and teach her the ropes. Begrudgingly (because it is so hard to say no to Margot Robbie), Nicky agrees to do so as she jumps on to help him with a big score that he and his team of thieves are planning at the Super Bowl. The intro almost works like a classic spy movie as Nicky shows Jess how he orchestrates the pickpocketing, gambling, card games, and thievery like a conductor at a podium. It almost all looks too good to be true, and the movie loves to play with your perception that the good times have to fall.
They end up racking in the money from the Super Bowl, but that’s the end of the road for Nicky and Jess as he leaves her to go on her way with a load of cash. But we have to see them again (since that happens about 30 minutes in and we have another hour left), and this time we find Nicky in Buenos Aires with Jess unbeknownst to him, at the side of the man he is trying to con.
The role was tailor made for Smith with his light charm and unbreakable confidence leading the way to make the character a scoundrel, but one that you ultimately have to root for the whole time. But for a movie that wears his name above everything, he doesn’t own the movie — that right is won by Robbie. The actress who busted on the scene in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street shows that she isn’t a one-hit wonder that was good under the guiding light of a legendary director. Instead, she shows that she has the makings of a movie star akin to Jennifer Lawrence because of her elegant sexiness and her razor sharp lip that can be used for a quick humorous line or a dramatic qualm.
The directors do a good job of creating this atmosphere that allows us to feel like we are apart of this high-class world that seems to be alive without any of our knowledge. The high-stake games and gambling add intensity to a scene that doesn’t seem to have much and the misdirection by the story keeps you on your toes at every turn.
But the film that it reminded me most of was Now You See Me and the fact that the story always thought it was smarter than the viewer. This isn’t the worst thing, and if it is done right, it can lead to a satisfying conclusion. Luckily for Focus (and what was not the case for Now You See Me), the story (and the corresponding twists and turns) are able to come together in the end and while the last one may be the most extravagant, it also lends itself to wrap up the story more cleanly than the one that ended my comparison.
Focus may have a twist or turn too many, but the star power of Smith and especially Robbie, makes it charming and unequivocally fun. I wouldn’t go as far to say that this was one of Smith’s best performances recently, but it does show that he has a wheelhouse he must stick to and it may be time that he pulls a Liam Neeson and sticks to a genre that he knows best.
But this is Robbie’s movie and it could be more of a coming out party that she had with Wolf of Wall Street because here she doesn’t have the safety net of Scorsese or Leonardo DiCaprio, it is just her and Smith, and she shows that it could be time to have her name above the title also.