Focus – Review
Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Adrian Martinez
UK Release Date: 27th February 2015
The greatest con featured in Focus is when the end credits roll and you realise that you were the “mark” all along. The deception wasn’t used to lift your watch, but instead to steal your time. The art of misdirection has tricked you into thinking that this film is anything more interesting than a shallow rom-com dressed up in the shiny clothes of a heist movie.
Focus is centred around Nicky (Will Smith), a smooth-talking professional thief, and Jess (Margot Robbie), an amateur grifter looking to learn from the master and improve her wallet lifting skills. They exploit the easy-pickings from Superbowl tourists in New Orleans, however Nicky’s aversion to emotion forces him into severing ties with Jess and pushing her away. Three years later, Nicky is working a new mark in Buenos Aires when Jess reappears in his life and his old feelings reignite, with potentially disastrous consequences for his con.
Focus stays true to its title for the first thirty minutes of screen time, unfolding with a slick promise of things to come despite questionable dialogue from the very beginning. The Superbowl segment, with Nicky’s “con crew” working in sync to pull off pickpocketing heists in large crowds, is an interesting segment and leads you to believe that this might be the direction of the film. UK viewers may be reminded of Hustle in the early scenes, the smooth BBC heist show that never took itself dreadfully seriously and delivered entertaining capers in its first few series. Unfortunately, this is all quickly abandoned as soon as the storyline moves away from New Orleans, a disappointing turn that trades the lively group dynamic for Nicky’s solo scamming.
It has to be said that Will Smith and Margot Robbie certainly share a strong chemistry, but they are mired by wisecracking dialogue that feels unnatural. Their back and forth chatting attempts to a elicit a response of “Oooh, aren’t they just so full of banter and naughtiness, with their risqué little jokes and sly digs!”, but actually comes across as uncomfortably forced. As a result, watching Smith and Robbie is like watching two irritating people flirting when they’re both already destined to sleep together, or that annoying couple who can’t stop kissing at the dinner table. Yes, you’re both very good for each other. Now go and get a room so no-one else is subjected to this awkward display.
While the story unfolds with twists and turns, there is nothing special occurring in Focus and most of the big surprises will have been guessed before they’re revealed. Will Smith’s performance is exactly what you’d expect from him, as he essentially revives his character from Hitch but with a little sprinkle of Ocean’s 11 thrown on top for good measure. Margot Robbie is adequate as the apprentice scammer, being given a little more to work with than Wolf of Wall Street, but not much. She’s left to serve as little more than eye candy for the most part, and some may question when we’ll actually get to see her real acting chops. Farhad, Nicky’s cyber-conman assistant played by Adrian Martinez, is the comedic highlight in a sea of unfunny misfires, delivering a couple of decent lines that should deserve a chuckle.
Shot like an flashy advert for generic luxury brands, Focus suffers from bad pacing and an unconvincing “heist movie” fascia of predictable twists and flashy cons that tread on very worn ground. At its heart is a rom-com in which you wish the “rom” would go away and pray that the “com” might arrive soon.
2 / 5 stars
Written by James Excell