- RatedNC16 /GenreComedy, Crime, Drama
Hollywood taps on certain well-oiled formulas for movies: superheroes, disasters, extra-terrestrial beasts invading Earth, evil spirits invading homes, bible stories and... con artists scamming the pants off you.
Swindlers with a penchant for charming you out of your wealth have been immortalised in movies such as 'Trouble in Paradise' (1932), 'Paper Moon' (1973), 'A Fish Called Wanda' (1988), 'Ocean's Eleven' (2001), and most recently, 'American Hustle' (2014).
For writer-directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, they have been captivated by these slippery criminals, and the duo first made a movie about them in 2009.
'I Love You Phillip Morris' stars Jim Carrey as a man who would deliberately involve himself in accidents and claim compensation through his insurance company to pay for his swanky lifestyle.
Fast forward six years later and the pair are back to the genre with ‘Focus’.
MORE: Review: 'Focus' 4/5
Requa said: “Glenn, particularly, is fascinated by con artists. We would talk about this notion of a world full of lies and deception, where there can be no trust, and wouldn’t it be interesting to try to set a romance in this world? Because love is about trust.”
Will Smith and Margot Robbie (right) in 'Focus' | Photo: Warner Bros
Unlike 'Phillip Morris' which is quirkier in tone, 'Focus' has a starker quality.
It tells the story of a seasoned con artist, Nicky (Will Smith), who falls for Jess (Margot Robbie), a talented and beautiful newcomer to the game.
Ficarra added: “Two people who work together falling in love. Traditionally that means letting your guard down, but for these characters, that’s the complete antithesis of who they are.”
They talk more about their motivation and the movie’s underlying theme, as well as its main cast:
Margot Robbie (left) in 'Focus' | Photo: Warner Bros
The fascination with con artists
Glenn Ficarra: Cons are about trust, but they’re on opposite sides of the trust spectrum: one is when you earn false trust and the other requires absolute trust. So the question is: can they co-exist?
John Requa: Can you find true love and trust in this world and this currency of lies? We got really interested in exploring that concept in a movie about four years ago. We would call it ‘The Con Artist Love Story’. No matter what else we were doing, we kept playing with it, and it evolved into this notion of having the first part of the movie being about a rookie con artist falling in love with a pro, and the second half about them coming back together when she’s not a rookie anymore.
The film’s title
Ficarra: The movie is about con artists and their ability to draw focus away from a crime towards something else, and we explore that on a number of levels.
On the simple level of pickpocketing, how do you distract someone and pull a wallet or watch out of their pocket?
But, in a larger sense, how do you make someone think that one thing is happening, when another thing has already happened?
On the emotional level as well: the human brain is pre-wired for love, so how do you use that to manipulate and use someone? That notion of focus was central to everything we’re exploring, big and small, in this story.
Will Smith and his character Nicky Spurgeon
Ficarra: The Will Smith we all know is this charismatic, smiling, nice guy. That’s so easy for him to embody in a character, but what if it was all an act?
That really appealed to us, the idea of having that quality unfold in the first half of the movie as just something he turned on whenever it was convenient. Then, as you watch Nicky unravel over the course of the second half of the movie, you still love him, even when he does some bad things.
Rodrigo Santoro plays racing tycoon Garriga | Photo: Warner Bros
Margot Robbie and her character Jess Barrett
Requa: We auditioned many incredibly talented women, and she came in and she just blew our socks off. Everybody. She walked out of the room and that was it. We knew our job was finished and that’s good. It was nothing more complex than that.
MORE: Margot Robbie on feisty females and 'Focus'
She has a better sense of scene and story and character than anyone, including Glenn and me. And oftentimes, she would straighten us out in a very nice way.
Rodrigo Santoro and his character Rafael Garriga
Ficarra: We didn’t want a kind of moustache-twirling Spaniard, and Rodrigo is just so welcoming and real. He’s an excellent actor, and he rarely gets to be funny, so we thought it would be fun to see him in this role.
‘Focus’ opens 26 February 2015