DIR: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa • WRI: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa • PRO: Denise Di Novi • DOP: Xavier Grobet • ED: Jan Kovac • MUS: Nick Urata • DES: Beth Mickle • CAST: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Adrian Martinez, Gerald McRaney
As one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, Will Smith has dominated the box office for over twenty years. Grossing over $6 billion global sales, thanks to action blockbusters such as Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997) and I Am Legend (2007), Smith’s name on the billboard is generally regarded as a sure-fire guarantee to worldwide commercial success. After a four-year hiatus from the screen and a string of subsequent miscalculations, including critical catastrophe After Earth (2013) and a bewildering cameo in Winter’s Tale (2014), Will Smith appears to be in a somewhat acting void, in need of a cinematic masterstroke to regain the dizzying heights of former box office glory.
Focus is a romantic crime caper starring Smith as seasoned con artist Nicky Spurgeon. Jess Brennan (Margo Robbie) is the young and beautiful criminal novice who persuades a reluctant Nicky to teach her the tricks of his trade. She joins Nicky’s amoral empire of fraudsters, swindling their way through the obscenely wealthy, until Nicky realises their suppressed romantic feelings are a liability and unceremoniously dumps her. Three years later, as Nicky is about to undertake his riskiest scam, they meet up by chance in Buenos Aires and Nicky soon discovers he may have taught Jess more than he can handle.
Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love.) Focus is a slick and polished fast-paced romp, which oozes sensuality and decadence, drips of glamour and excess and seeps in self-indulgence and extravagance. Underneath its lustrous veneer however, lies a series of convoluted entanglements, an overinflated and well-worn plot and a narrative that remains too faithful to the conventions of its genre, it ends up on the whole, a rather predictable and messy affair. The film throws the kitchen sink of lacklustre sub-plots into the narrative without much consideration for originality or execution and ironically, Focus ultimately becomes a film that is afraid to take risks.
Amidst the array of tomfoolery, the bubbling romance between Smith and Robbie has the potential to sedate the film’s hyperactivity and offer a respite from the myriad of capering. Despite the evident on-screen chemistry between the two leads, this romantic element is unbearably teased out and the shenanigans keep coming at such a magnificent velocity, that by the time the romantic narrative has limped towards the final act, any remnants of a love affair has lost its appeal and gloss.
Regardless of its gleaming production and costume design, smooth technical style and frisky musical score, Focus is largely seductive because Smith and Robbie are the seducers. It is a testament to Smith’s experience and skill that is he able to maintain a semblance of credibility and finds the correct balance between poise, charisma and boyish vulnerability, adapting to the script’s strained meanderings without descending into farce or caricature.
After her memorable breakthrough performance in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), the role of Jess Brennan could be viewed as rather regressive for Margot Robbie. Although she plays the part of the criminal ingénue-turned-accomplished fraudster with exquisite style, the voyeuristic emphasis on her flawless beauty leaves a void in the development of her character and any emotional intelligence she attempts to display is thwarted by the overt emphasis on her physical allure. Devoid of Scorsese’s black comedy to ignite the character, sees Robbie hovering in limbo, neither vindictive enough to be the archetypal femme fatale nor vapid enough to be mere eye candy.
Focus is a crime caper that commits to such a formulaic narrative it struggles to breathe new life into the genre and severely fails to mark its own identity. The film is imbued with just enough energy and commitment from Smith and Robbie to keep it above water and although we have seen Smith do funny and charming countless times and Focus far from equals his previous work, his performance has enough respectability to at least see him move in the right direction.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Focus is released 27th February 2015