“Focus” goes against itself and loses focus
Con artist films are always a fun ride. They offer up a look at a mysterious world the average person knows nothing about. They hook you with talk of the grift, the touch, and focus. They are fun because you sit back and wait to see the inevitable twist of, who is actually conning who while also feeling like you got a lesson in how to be a theif.
“Confidence” and “The Grifters” are great examples of that. They go deep into that underworld and show how us regular Joes are easily ripped off and gullible. The two mentioned above also do it right and are classics in the sub genre.
“Focus” gives us another look at the underworld of confidence men. Oddly enough the tagline on this ones poster is “Never lose focus,” and sadly that is advice the film should have taken under advisement for itself.
The story follows wunderkind conman Nicky (Will Smith) who is immediately introduced to newbie con artist Jess (Margot Robbie). After a failed con on Nicky from Jess, he ends up taking her under his wing to teach her how to be one of the greats.
The key in Nicky’s lessons revolves around “touch” and “focus.” In other words if you distract someone, they are focusing on the distraction long enough for you to come in and lift their wallet or other valuables.
This first half of the film is a great half. The audience is watching and learning along with Jess, while the interaction between the team is nailed and held securely in place. The great first half culminates with Nicky placing insane gambling bets against Liyuan (B.D. Wong) on a football game that the two attend. Wong playing against Smith in these scenes is fun.
Nicky placing bets with the organizations money is tense and will put you on the edge of your seat the way a great con artist film should.
Sadly the film deflates from that point, and goes against its own advice as it loses focus. The film cuts to three years later and you can almost hear the audience shift in their seat and lose the glue that had pulled them in during the first act.
Nicky has moved onto his next con which involves Formula 1 cars and two guys who know Nicky is a con artist but are choosing to work with him in order to make some money.
In the midst of the con he is re introduced to partner in crime Jess. And for me that was the end of the fun. “Focus” begins trying to place its attention on making the film about con artists and a love story. While there are some twists and turns down the road none of them quite match what the first half of the film had to offer.
If “Focus” had managed to keep itself grounded in that first half and Liyuan had stuck around as the films villain the last half might have been salvageable. The quick jump over three years and the fledgling love story between Nicky and Jess ends up falling in the realm of mediocre.
The charming and charismatic Smith and the sexy Robbie have great on screen chemistry and are a fun duo to watch interact in this underworld. But again the setup in the first half is sadly undone in the last half.
With a writer like Glenn Ficarra behind this one I expected an edgier and harder hitting film. The guy wrote “Bad Santa” and “I Love you Phillip Morris” after all.
Overall this one is fun to watch and sets up a fast talking and well done first bit but trips itself up by trying to spin too many plates at the end of the day. It’s a mostly fun ride but makes me miss films like “Confidence” and “The Grifters.”