Focus – 3 out of 5
Movies about con men can be a lot of fun if they are done right because, deep down, we all think they are cool and we all wish we could be that slick. I tried to be a con man once and pretended to be a magician that asked for twenty dollar bills from random people and then I told them I would make it disappear before taking off running down the street. The mark always caught up to me and beat the ever lovin’ piss out of me because I’m not a fast runner but the point is I tried. Anyway, when a con film is done right and leaves you guessing and entertains you with fun and creative characters the entertainment that flows from it is rich, tasty and satisfying like sweet maple syrup (I had trouble coming up with an analogy and glanced in the kitchen where the groceries are still waiting to be put away). When con films are no good, they’re like a moldy orange (yep, this analogy got away from me and I need to throw those oranges away). Where does Focus sit on this weird food spectrum? Well, you saw the score so it’s a bit like tortilla chips that haven’t gone stale yet but are starting to…good thing I bought some queso dip so I can eat those before they do get stale. I should probably put those groceries away.
|Okay, neither are amused with my grocery antics.|
Con man supreme Nicky (Will Smith) years ago meets a young up-and-comer wannabe con lady named Jess (Margot Robbie) and, reluctantly, he brings her in and teaches her the game. The two fall for each other but Nicky quickly cuts ties and leaves her behind. Three years later while on a big scheme, he finds himself once again confronted by her and decides to use her to help his con…or is she using him?
|If he has that same level of intensity as Deadshot in Suicide Squad, we are|
golden with that film. GOLDEN I SAY IN CAPITAL LETTERS AND LOTS
OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!
For the most part, Focus is a well put together film that has a somewhat coherent story working for it. I say “somewhat” because the major con of the film that takes up the last half of the 2nd Act and the entire Third is there but definitely feels pushed towards the back-burner and isn’t given the attention it needs to be given. Important plot elements to this scheme are only revealed at the end in order to create the “Ah-ha!” moment and they are never really seen prior to this due to the focus of Focus being on the relationship between Nicky and Jess—which, convenient enough for the subject matter, acts as a form of misdirection to what’s really going on…kinda like a con game. Ultimately, however, it would have been nice to see writers/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa balance the duties of having a well-rounded and interesting relationship between these two main characters AND have a really fun and intriguing con going on the whole time. It felt like the two couldn’t handle highlighting them both at the same time and it had to be one or the other.
|But, I have to say, the directors really nailed some killer visuals.|
|Seriously, this scene with BD Wong is the tops in this|
film. And yes, I described it as "the tops."
Another problem that held back the story and really kept this from being a higher scoring film for me is the fact this film’s major con game and the part where Jess and Nicky are reunited (for better or worse) feels like it comes too late in the film. The training of Jess takes up a lot of the beginning and while this results in some fun and flash con game sequences—one especially with BD Wong who plays a rich man who really, really loves to gamble—it quickly makes the film feel like it’s about these two setting up a con partnership (and partnership in love) and you don’t really get a hint that Nicky will eventually pack bags and leave her in the dust. After this happens and Nicky’s new big con is established, the film reverts to being all about them and Nicky working his way back into her good graces. The major con is mentioned here and there during this sequence but because it arrives so late in the film and due to the emphasis being on the relationship between Nicky and Jess, this con never feels essential to the story and almost feels like a wasted opportunity to have some cool shit go down. This also ends up making the mark (played by Rodrigo Santoro) for Nicky’s scheme feel overwhelmingly underdeveloped to the point I kept forgetting he was even in the film. Finally, the big reveal in this con seemed a tad obvious and way too telegraph—this is a minor complaint and probably wouldn’t have been that bad if the con was developed better…or even just focused on more.
|Meet the film's "bad guy." You'll be forgiven when you forget he's in the film.|
The overall emphasis on Nicky and Jess wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, because both Will Smith and Margot Robbie play their roles exceptionally well and have unbelievably great chemistry together—which is a super big relief because the last time I watched Will Smith act was in AfterEarth and that movie made me die a little inside and them having great chemistry together makes me very hopeful for how they will be as Deadshot and Harley Quinn in the Suicide Squad movie. (Gawd damn, I can’t wait to see Robbie as Quinn!) I honestly would have been fine with the film avoiding it’s poorly handled big con to just focus on the two and building their con relationship because it really was the best and most engaging part of the film. Their relationship also led to some very amusing moments with another con character named Farhad (played by Adrian Martinez) that were incredibly fun to watch.
|Play this for the full effect.|
From a character perspective, Focus does everything right. The perfect cast members were picked, the writers really nailed down the characters and kept them from being flat or uninteresting and the chemistry they all had together felt incredibly natural and really made me get invested in them and their enterprise. The parts that didn’t work in the film was how the relationships between these characters took precedent over the catalyst that brought them back together in the first place and how it would ultimately affect them. The con plays a role but one that was too weak to even be in the same league of whether or not you were going to see Nicky and Jess get back together. Without this bit of conflict unable to be as engaging as the relationships between the characters you are left with a con film that doesn’t offer up a memorable con and that sort of defeats the purpose. It’s still a decent film but, as far as con films go, it isn’t even in the same league as the weakest Ocean’s Eleven rip-off.
|I took this screen grab of Adrian Martinez in the film and it really amused me so I'm |
adding it to the review for absolutely no other reason than that. I'm not even
going to add a bad joke here for a caption.