Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Adrian Martinez, Gerald McRaney, Rodrigo Santoro, BD Wong, Brennan Brown, Robert Taylor, Griff Furst, Stephanie Honoroe
In the midst of veteran con man Nicky’s latest scheme, a woman from his past – now an accomplished femme fatale – shows up and throws his plans for a loop.
It’s very rare to see a super sexy, stylish hustle movie that is more about the music and visuals than character and story which also demonises criminals rather than glorify them. Focus is not one of those movies.
Will Smith stars as Nicky, a long-time hustler with a certain set of skills who hires Jess (his Suicide Squad co-star Margot Robbie) as an intern. The two flirt, they fall for each other and make a boat load of money over Superbowl weekend in New Orleans. But Nicky leaves Jess to go do other things, only for the pair to cross paths again three years when Nicky is hired by race car owner Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro) who is now the object of Jess’ affections.
There are several issues with Focus, but the main one of which is that its main story – the relationship between Nicky and Jess – isn’t very interesting. When the movie focuses (no pun intended) on the hustles and the execution of said hustles, Focus can be a lot of fun. Like all good movies of its genre, it creates set-ups that are easy to follow but contain little nuances that pay off when all is revealed. They’re not great by any stretch of the imagination (and downright silly in some cases), but they’re more interesting than the couple doing them. The team that Nicky works with all seem like interesting little characters and its fun to see them work together, even if what they are doing is morally wrong. But when the focus shifts (again, no pun intended) to the second portion of the film where it’s just Nicky and Jess, Focus gets a bit boring. There’s no elaborate steals, there’s no bombastic lifts or convoluted hustles and the team is nowhere to be found, so it’s just two people sitting around talking about their feelings. Imagine if Ocean’s Eleven had just been about Danny and Tess with the heist as an afterthought – that’s Focus in a nutshell.
Which would be fine if Smith and Robbie had the chemistry Clooney and Roberts had. But despite Smith being one of the most effortlessly charming men in existence and Robbie being an incredibly striking screen presence, the two have all the connections of one-piece LEGO set. Even when they’re given flashy and sexy dialogue, Focus is spectacularly flat. What’s funny is that Robbie appears to have more chemistry with the ‘fat comic relief’ Farhad (Adrian Martinez) who actually turns in the movie’s best performance.
And the script doesn’t work in what it sets out to do because Focus is trying too hard to be sexy and stylish and in the end comes off as contrived. It was if directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa looked at a check list of what needs to be done to make a ‘sexy crime movie’ and ticked them off one by one without thinking of whether they fit in the movie’s aesthetics. In particular the music in Focus is horrendous, ranging from clichéd ‘heard-it-all-before’ funky tracks to an overbearing score that doesn’t understand subtlety.
But, as was alluded to in the opening paragraph, Focus is another in a long list of movies that promotes stealing from innocent people while pretending it’s cool and sexy. At least Ocean’s Eleven goes out of its way to say Andy Garcia is a prick or The Wolf of Wall Street, which goes to great lengths to paint Jordan Belfort in a bad light, but Focus presents this group of common thieves as heroes who are stealing from everyday folk with no thought for the victims. There’s also no repercussions, which makes the script and direction seem even more reprehensible.
Focus, predictably, is more about style than substance. As shallow as a tear drop and as vacuous as the Oscars, Focus is a movie that is not as stylish as it thinks, but does have some moments of fun. Even if you can look past the criminality of the movie (which is easy, it’s not real), there isn’t enough here to really write home about. Smith and Robbie aren’t terrible, but they lack any sort of spark which is made only worse by a lazy script that isn’t as clever as it wants to be.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.