- RatedNC16 /GenreComedy, Crime, Drama
Con artist Nicky Spurgeon offers this baiting tactic: “You get their focus, you can get whatever you want.”
Indeed, your undivided attention is what’s needed to watch Will Smith’s latest outing, ‘Focus’.
Blink, and you will miss it.
A stray glance at another corner of the screen and that little detail that might be important to the story will slip.
Like the confidence artists – the con men and women – portrayed in the movie, ‘Focus’ does all that and more, making you believe and persuading you that the story is going one way, but when you least expect it, it will hit you in the gut, taking everything you have with your pants down.
Not since Steven Soderberg’s ‘Oceans Eleven’ has there been such a slick and sophisticated movie about a gang of swindlers like ‘Focus’.
Will Smith stars as Nicky Spurgeon, a veteran con man who decides to follow Jess Barett (Margot Robbie) back to her room one evening after some drinks. He reads her attempt at a con in a second, sees something in her and takes her under his wing. The only stumbling block? He breaks one of his cardinal rules by starting to fall for her.
So he breaks it off, only to face her again three years later working on a same scam involving millionaire Spanish racecar team owner Rafael Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro), but from opposing sides. And the challenge is to keep his focus with her as a distraction working against him.
One of the basic tenets of con movies, such as David Mamet’s ‘House of Games’ (1987) and ‘Things Change’ (1988), is that the director never shows his hand.
Most con-artist movies just involves the classic confidence games, but what makes ‘Focus’ interesting is the emotional element that throws a spanner in the works.
Margot Robbie (left) and Will Smith in 'Focus' | Photo: Warner Bros
Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who also wrote the script, did a fine job in balancing emotion and apathy.
The hook is to watch two people skilled in manipulating the trust of others struggle within themselves to never trust anyone and fall in love.
There are perfectly timed road bumps in the plot where the characters (and the audience) apparently see through a deception, only to find that a deeper reality explains everything. Or not.
WILL SMITH'S COMEBACK
One of Hollywood’s last true superstars, Smith makes a return to the big screen with a movie that truly shows his form.
There are no explosions to run from or aliens to battle in ‘Focus’. After ‘Independence Day’, the actor spent a decade knocking out hit after hit of mainstream popcorn fare, ranging from romantic comedy ‘Hitch’ to social issues drama ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ to post-apocalyptic horror movie ‘I Am Legend’.
Smith is undeniably going through another phase in his career, where he is choosing to do different genres of movies just on his brand name. And ‘Focus’ is the start.
His Nicky is endlessly slippery but with a surprisingly decent core, and we are absorbed.
Margot Robbie’s Jess is highly watchable as well. The 'Wolf of Wall Street' breakout star is fascinatingly complex as Nicky’s student and love interest, who is shrewder than she lets on.
Margot Robbie's Jess (left) and Rodrigo Santoro's Rafael Garríga | Photo: Warner Bros
The Australian blonde ingenue bounces effortlessly between comedy and drama. As Jess morphs from a novice con artist to an elegant sophisticate, it becomes increasingly difficult to know who’s conning whom.
Playing a thorn in Nicky’s side is Garriga’s head of security, Owens (Gerald McRaney from TV's ‘House of Cards’).
What could have been better was the film’s final revelation. After being led in one direction, the audience is hurriedly informed that something else has been going on all along.
‘Focus’ feels like a con, a skilled exercise in creative misdirection, but you will have a good time watching this sophisticated, sexy, devious piece of cockeyed dramedy.
‘Focus’ opens 26 February 2015