Focus Director: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Adrian Martinez, Gerald McRaney, Rodrigo Santoro, and BD Wong
A jigsaw puzzle can be put together in many different ways. Some start with the edges, while others focus on distinguishable objects. In the end it's a pleasant process of time spent in a non-too-complicated exercise. “Focus” from Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the team behind 2011’s “Crazy, Stupid, Love”, has this same quality. It's an enjoyable though unbalanced caper and con artist film that has undeniable coolness but unfortunately struggles to find direction with the chemistry of the leads and narrative structure to make it as memorable an experience as it might have been.
Nicky (Will Smith) is a con artist who runs a team of pickpockets and scam artists during the week of the Superbowl in New Orleans. It’s the perfect gig for the group to make a few easy million dollars taking advantage of gullible and ignorant tourists. Jess (Margot Robbie) is a rookie thief who tries to swindle Nicky with a blundered ploy that he easily identifies. Jess becomes enamored with Nicky’s abilities and tracks him down in an effort to learn and be trained by him. Nicky, living by the crooks rule of never letting heart get involved in business, allows Jess into his group but leaves her when things get too serious.
Chemistry, especially in a film like “Focus”, plays an integral aspect in the execution of the film. Take for instance Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen in 1968’s “The Thomas Crown Affair”, a film that is a clear influence here, where a major part of what makes that film work so well is the undeniable chemistry between the leads. Will Smith and Margot Robbie’s relationship at times comes off natural while other times it feels forced and flat. When it works in early scenes where the two actors are given time to share the screen in moments of flirtation and playful charm without clear insight into their intentions, the film builds a chemistry that assists the distrusting qualities of a story about deceitful con artists. However, as the film progresses and the mystery is slighted for a lazy love story, the chemistry of the actors is lost amongst a story that feels confused with the directions it wants to take. Though it’s easy to see what the film wanted to be, especially in a scene involving Nicky and an egocentric gambler (BD Wong). The moment plays out with building tension, two gamblers who care less about risk than they do about their ego, lending Will Smith the opportunity to be conflicted rather than cool and the narrative to embody the confidence and cunning qualities of the con artist it portrays.
Will Smith still has an indisputable charisma. Whether his cool, calm, and comedic demeanor in every situation, serious or otherwise, or the emotional intensity that he accompanies with teary-eyed sensitivity, it’s never a stretch for him to play these composed yet emotionally guarded characters. Margot Robbie makes a great femme fatale here but she also shines during emotional moments when her character becomes vulnerable to Nicky. Robbie has been consistently good in her short film career so far.
“Focus” has a slick and crafty quality initially but unfortunately stalls in the second half and succumbs to repeating many of the scenes it already utilized to establish the motivations in the beginning. Though Will Smith and Margot Robbie are interesting to watch, a weak narrative undermines the chemistry that could have elevated this film above some of the flaws it falters into.
2.75 out of 5.00