UK Release Date: 27th February 2015
Runtime: 105 minutes
Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Writer: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Adrian Martinez, Gerald McRaney, Robert Taylor
Synopsis: An inexperienced young grifter is taken under the wing of an expert con man and their paths continue to cross into the future.
Cinema has a long-running obsession with con men, drawn in by the glitz and glamour of money and scheming. The latest to take up the mantle is Will Smith, who teams up with rising star Margot Robbie for Focus – a drama that emphasises the glitz of the grift.
Nicky (Smith) is an experienced con man who happens upon inexperienced grifter Jess (Robbie) when she tries to con him. After he teaches her the tricks of the trade, they part company. Soon, though, they meet again when Nicky teams up with F1 team boss Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro) in order to sabotage a fellow team and discovers he is dating Jess. As the pair rekindle something of an illicit romance, Garriga’s security guard Owens (Gerald McRaney) becomes suspicious and decides to investigate.
The problem with Focus is that it seems to have convinced itself that it’s an original and unique concept. The film is greatly enamoured with the process of the con and showing the audience its sleight of hand moments in gleeful slow motion. Unfortunately, for anyone who has so much as seen an episode of the great BBC drama Hustle, it’s a little old hat.
| "I once convinced a man that an empty warehouse was the federal reserve, so I’m good."
It doesn’t help that Will Smith looks thoroughly bored with the role. Just as in the desperately depressing After Earth, Smith mumbles through his lines with minimal effort and no charisma. It’s as if even he has decided that his career as a marquee star is over and is now simply cashing in on projects he still has the ability to greenlight.
The plot is also an absolute snooze. It’s obvious that the various cons and schemes are a mere vehicle for the central relationship, but neither of those facets is interesting enough to carry a movie to the two hour mark. By the time the strands start to come together in the final third, it’s difficult to care about the various rabbits that are pulled from the filmmakers’ hats.
Thankfully, there’s an oasis in the shape of Margot Robbie. She was brilliant, despite her underwritten role, in The Wolf of Wall Street and again shines here with material that doesn’t deserve her talents. She is an immensely seductive screen presence, complete with the kind of likeability and charisma that cannot be taught. Focus is not a good showcase for her skills, but she’s definitely a talent worth watching.
| "That’s what you get when you hire a con man."
Focus is the epitome of style over substance, entirely lacking in subtext and repeatedly garlanding its own cleverness. There’s a gem of a film trying to escape from this turgid, wit-free script, but that’s a pocket that the film never manages to pick.
Pop or Poop?
Margot Robbie battles gamely as Will Smith snores his way through Focus. It’s a film so keen to pat itself on the back that it forgets it’s supposed to be entertaining an audience.
Robbie is a hell of a talent, but she needs to find a much better gig than this.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.