Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Gerald McRaney
You can feel Focus trying to be as debonair and romantic as the Oceans films and as character-driven as American Hustle. Despites its sites, it never reaches those heights.
It’s not that Smith isn’t an expert at playing slick – he’s less appealing at the romantic banter required here. It’s also not that Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) isn’t sexy. In fact, her glamour and comic timing are the best things about this flick. The complications are entertaining. Although this is pure escapism, it’s just slight on memorable moments and sexual chemistry.
Petty thief Robbie tries to pull a scam on Smith; she’s unable to spot that he’s in on the game. When the plan goes south, Smith and Robbie rope each other into more schemes. First, there’s a football championship in New Orleans, where Smith mentors Robbie. Then, they move on to New York City. Then, Smith traipses to Buenos Aires, only to find Robbie hanging off the well-tanned arm of his boss, the super-sexy Santoro.
“I can convince anyone of anything,” Smith says. Not quite…
Though their comic timing is impeccable, Smith and Robbie want us to believe in deep romance between two lifelong cons. It’s just impossible to believe they fall in love, knowing that they can never trust each other. Watching Smith emotionally unravel seems to be an acting exercise untied to the rest of the film, or his life.
The title refers to averting a target’s eye, in order to pull the grift. Focus certainly delivers on that promise. Here is an equal balance of humor, hubris, complication, and style. Writer-directors Glenn Fincarra and John Requa (both are behind I Love You, Phillip Morris and Bad Santa) fill the screen with expensive settings, bespoke fashion, slick editing and a jazzy score that excellently play into this genre’s clichés.
Anyone who reads up on Hollywood knows this was a film long in the making. Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck, and Ryan Gosling were all touted as the dashing lead. Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, and (shudder) Kristen Stewart were said to be considering the part that Robbie really deserves and delivers.
More character definition elsewhere would’ve definitely helped the film. Only Robbie and McRaney (as Santoro’s filth-mouthed, untrusting bodyguard) make impressions. Also, a few plot tangents actually make the film lose focus – ironic, given its title.
Besides Robbie and McRaney – and despite the unbelievable love story – the elaborate swindles are a blast. So much of this is so meticulously edited; audiences are aware we’re also being misled. It’s both a pleasure and a pain to spot the duplicity. It’s a great movie for fans of complex capers; it’s just a terrible date night flick.