Synopsis: Nicky (Will Smith), a veteran con artist, takes a novice named Jess (Margot Robbie) under his wing. While Nicky teaches Jess the tricks of the trade, the pair become romantically involved; but, when Jess gets uncomfortably close, Nicky ends their relationship. Three years later, Nicky is in Buenos Aires working a very dangerous scheme when Jess – now an accomplished femme fatale – unexpectedly shows up. Her appearance throws Nicky for a loop at a time when he cannot afford to be off his game.
Release Date: February 27, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Mystery
The con man movie is a tricky genre, if only because the audience enters the theater with the expectation nothing is what it seems. As a result, it’s rare that a film can pull the veil over the average moviegoer’s eyes enough for them not to see the twist (or twists) coming. Fail, and the film is written off as a predictable tale, but succeed and you may be on to something.
With Focus, directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have pulled off that very difficult feat. They’ve made a film with more than a few twists and turns, many of which are obfuscated by tight screenwriting and work largely because of the talented cast. Sure, some will be able to work the big reveal out, but even still, Focus is an entertaining ride. It’s a smart, sexy, cool caper with some standout performances from its two leads.
The basic narrative of Focus centers on Nicky (Will Smith from Men In Black III), a high profile con man who has earned a reputation for mid-level, high volume scores. He’s the type of con man who tells more lies than truths and always seems one step ahead. However, a chance encounter with Jess (Margot Robbie) seemingly disrupts Nicky’s own focus, as he trains his new protege in the various ways of the con man, or in this case con woman. The two develop a romantic connection, and…well, things get more interesting from there. It’s best not to spoil too much of the plot, lest you start to figure it out ahead of time.
From its very first scene, Focus sets itself up as a smart film with a delicate touch. Like Nicky, Ficarra and Requa (who also double as screenwriters) know that if they pull the viewer’s attention in one direction, they can set them up for an unexpected twist. However, they’re smart enough to know that Focus couldn’t possibly have worked without two strong leads who have great chemistry. Lucky for them, Smith and Robbie are pretty mesmerizing on screen.
The one major gripe to be had with the film is that its second and third acts fail to live up to the first. As Jess is learning the tricks of the trade, Focus moves effortlessly – it’s funny, charming, and it has a definite personality. Once things start to progress a little further, though, the film loses a tiny bit of its luster. That’s obviously in service of building the big con – the one pulled on the audience – but it also kills some of that earlier momentum.
Even so, Focus is an entertaining film on its own merits, with a solid cast, a sharp script, and genuine personality. Will Smith and Margot Robbie are fantastic together on screen, to the point you wish they had more scenes together. Sure, the con itself is slightly predictable, and it’s a little too neat and tidy, but it succeeds in surprising the audience. Focus is a con man movie with a modern twist and is well worth seeing in theaters.
Although the dialogue in Focus is more sophisticated than the average romance, the actual main con is a little weak in retrospect. It’s a little too neat in the grand scheme of things and it’s not all that interesting. The smaller cons that take place during the first half of the film, where Jess is learning the tricks of the trade, are actually the more impressive ones. Obviously, they’re only there for flash and to keep the audience guessing, but it would have been nice to see that same approach applied a little further down the line.
Regardless, Ficarra and Requa deserve recognition for a script that has uncharacteristically mature beats. It makes for scenes that aren’t overwrought with humdrum exposition, but are entertaining and realistic at the same time. Pregnant pauses and quick glances bring out a subtlety in the performers that would have felt like dead air in another film. That may be a greater compliment to the cast, but the script itself is well written regardless. It’s funny, it doesn’t over dramatize the romance, and it delivers some truly unexpected twists.
Just in case it wasn’t evident enough, Margot Robbie and Will Smith are fantastic together on screen. There’s an effortlessness to their scenes that makes the romance feel far less forced than the average flick. More importantly, the way the two can switch gears between romance and comedy helps keep Focus at a brisk pace. There’s nothing more to say other than the two are extremely enjoyable to watch, and God bless Warner Bros. for hiring the two for the upcoming Suicide Squad movie.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Glenn Ficarra
- Screenwriter(s): Glenn FicarraJohn Requa
- Cast: Will Smith (Nicky)Margot Robbie (Jess)Adrian Martinez (Farhad) Gerald McRaney (Owens)Rodrigo Santoro (Garriga)BD Wong (Liyuan)
- Editor(s): Jan Kovac
- Cinematographer: Xavier Grobet
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Nick Urata
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA