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Film Review: Focus

The best con movies have a unsettling looseness that keep audiences on edge.


By Jean-Pierre Mestanza

Saturday 14 March 2015, 12:00PM


Four Stars

FOCUS

Starring:
Will Smith,
Margot Robbie,
Rodrigo Santoro,
Adrian Martinez, Brennan Brown,
B.D. Wong
and Gerald McRaney.
Director:
Glenn Ficarra and
John Requa
Running time:
104 minutes

There’s the suave, silky smooth Ocean films with grandiose heists that take from the rich. Then there are the Nine Queens and Catch Me If You Can types that laude petty grifts to make way for the bigger scores. Though playing their own cons on seemingly different planets, all con films have a coolness factor that makes audiences look over the cheesy aspects of each.

Focus tries to reconcile the world of small and big crime while maintaining the tone of a romantic comedy. Seasoned con man Nicky “Mellow” Spurgeon (Will Smith) meets grifter Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie) who begs him to become her mentor. After he lets her in his large web of professional confidence games, the two become close but forces outside of their control threaten to rain on their relationship and cash “earnings”.

The film takes the audience from America to the world of motor racing in Argentina and back. And just like turbulence on the flight from Houston to Buenos Aires, the con hits a bumpy road with the audience constantly guessing who is playing who and with what.

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Ironically, Focus fails to home in on what it wants to be: a romance or a con film. Ultimately, it tries to be a romantic comedy but the games are so intertwined and dependant on relationships it’s tough to see this as more than a dark comedy with good-looking people who like to have fun after a few martinis.

Smith carries the film with just the right mix of brooding charm and elegance – similar to his role in Hitch – and hits all the notes of a veteran con artist trying to make his way. Think Danny Ocean, but less hollow and with much more personality. Similarly, Robbie’s portrayal of damsel-seemingly-in-distress plays well with Smith’s main character giving the film an (albeit) flimsy romantic backbone.

Still, this backbone is constantly getting stretched out of proportion, mangled and broken when the cons keep getting in the way. This forces audiences to mistrust any bit of love and tenderness that Focus gives us, similar to how Confidence goes back and forth between lies and reality.

With more twists and turns than a swing dancing competition, Focus clearly has trust issues. The characters can barely trust each other and the audience can’t trust the emotions on screen.This is what makes Focus a mediocre film as it’s reliance on the big twist and romantic overtones belittle the small, intricate weaves parlayed by great characters like Liyen Tse (B.D. Wong) and Farhad (Adrian Martinez).

Focus is smooth, entertaining and rewatchable – if only to see how those street games are done!

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