Smith and Robbie Try Really Hard To Keep “Focus”

By Scott Kurland

Film: Focus
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Adrian Martinez, and Rodrigo Santoro
Rated R
Director: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

I have stated a thousand times before how much I love Westerns and Blaxplotation films, but my favorite genre are Con Man movies. “The Sting”, “The Brothers Bloom”,  “Paper Moon” are constantly on repeat on my blu-ray player. Anything about confidence men or women brings me so much joy. I think it’s because con men work so hard to pull off their stunts,  it’s like a well timed magic act. That brings us to this week’s film “Focus” starring Will Smith as con man and Margot Robbie as his lady love. A con man in love? That’s an odd premise, but does it work as a film? Let’s find out shall we?

“Focus” is the story of Nicky (Will Smith) a con man who is number one when it comes to the grift. He’s poised, calm, and smart...however, he’s too soft. When Nicky takes on a new student named Jess (Margot Robbie), he appears to take a real shine to her. Nicky begins to get careless, and lets his judgement get cloudy, so what does he do? He cuts the dame loose, and never looks back. Yet problems arise when after three years, Jess shows up mid con to fog Nicky’s judgement again. Will Nicky pull off this last job or has Jess shaken his “Focus”?

Despite a few film mishaps like “After Earth” and “A Winter’s Tale”,  people thought Will Smith found his mojo with this film. Has he though?  Smith is believable as Nicky, you buy that he runs the biggest game in town. You even like Nicky and cringe when he starts to toss money away left and right due to a gambling addiction (which they briefly touch upon.) This is a solid performance from Smith, it’s not nearly as good as “Hitch” or  Jay from “Men In Black”, but it is solid. My main beef with Smith’s performance is he played this role better in those previously mentioned films. As Nicky, Smith doesn’t add any new characteristic to this character. We’ve seen the winning smile, we’ve heard the explanation of rules, and in all honesty we’ve liked Will Smith in stronger films. This felt like the film he should have made after “Hitch”, but waited too long.

Margot Robbie is building a name for herself in a short amount of time, and I’m happy for her. She’s very talented and very charismatic. However, the hardest hurdle for her to climb is chemistry with Smith, and sadly they don’t have it. There was no spark between Robbie and the ageless Smith. I know it was a love story but I felt no love. The way he was teaching her in the beginning felt more fatherly than seductive. So when they begin the romance I was already taken out of the film. The setup is for teacher student that slowly leads to lover territory, but they forget the number one rule. Make sure your leads can smolder on screen. There was no passion, no fire, not even a 4th of July sparkler. They both give strong performances, and as I said before about Smith being better in other films that goes double for Robbie. She tries her best here and she is believable as Jess, but the source material did not work in Robbie’s favor this time.

I loved the look of this film, and that’s about it. The cinematography from Xavier Grobert is gorgeous, so saturated and dark that it captures your eye at full force. The use of natural light and allowing it to capture the camera at the right angle was perfect. Yet, as an entire film I’ve seen this story done better. I know what Ficarra and Requa were going for but its been done a lot better. The twist ending and big reveal felt too much like “The Sting”. Finding a compelling con man love story was too much like “The Brothers Bloom”. You can’t try and replicate another film so hard. The effort is very obvious onscreen. Don’t even get me started on when they tried humor in this picture, I felt like they were saying “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” did this, so why not us? This is a film with a huge identity crisis. If you’re asking if that’s bad, yes it is very bad.

When I first left the theater I kind of liked "Focus”, but the more I thought about it and analyzed it I kind of got sick of it. A good movie isn’t suppose to do that. A good movie makes you love it the more you try and examine it. I guess that means this isn’t a good movie, and that fact is what truly breaks my heart. Smith was good-ish and Robbie tried her best, but the execution fell flat. “Focus” isn’t a bad movie, it just isn’t a good movie either. A good con film is suppose to con the audience. I didn’t feel conned, I actually figured out the twist halfway through. The premise was clever at first, but this script felt sloppy and rushed. Do yourself a favor and wait for rent or OnDemand.

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