- on Friday, 27 February 2015 16:03
- by Frank Wilkins
Few film genres evoke the silly, impulsive giddiness we experience from a good con or heist flick. There’s just something supremely fascinating about watching some hapless rube get fleeced of all his worldly possessions at the hands of a well-oiled con team. That experience is only heightened when we, the audience, become that poor sap at the hands of the film’s makers. Stripped of everything we know and trust about a film’s plot or its characters, we’re hoodwinked into just sitting back and having a good time. And that’s exactly what happens in Focus, a film that will never be mistaken for any of the genre’s greats, but is an enjoyable time at the movies nonetheless.
Consisting of three or four consecutive stories, Focus begins in New YorkCity as big-time con-man Nicky (Will Smith) nearly falls for the two-bit ruse being run by Jess (Margot Robbie), a flirty young blonde he meets in a restaurant bar. But rather than flee in shame when discovered by her unfortunate choice of targets, Jess instead pours on the romantic charm and before we can say “obligatory con-game montage,” she’s under Nicky’s wing learning everything about the art of the con.
The story then jumps to New Orleans for Super Bowl Sunday and its abundance of inattentive rubes spangled in shiny jewels and money-stuffed wallets. It’s a fascinating thing to watch them execute the fine art of deception and sleight of hand tricks as Nicky’s team spreads out across the Crescent City to clean up with millions in stolen loot. The production team hired world-renowned magician and con-artist, Apollo Robbins to choreograph not only the street-level tricks like picking pockets and stealing expensive watches right off the hands of unsuspecting victims, but also to lay out the much larger games including an elaborately-staged long con involving a bet-happy Chinese gambler (B.D. Wong). The deception doesn’t quite work as well as co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy Stupid Love) had hoped for, and comes nowhere near matching the mother of all cons featured in 1973’s The Sting. It’s just a bit too far-fetched for us to buy into and unfortunately represents one of the film’s biggest stumbles. We know it’s not good when a 10-minute follow-up scene is needed to explain its way out of the mess, yet we still don’t buy it.
The stakes get even higher as Nicky moves his operation to Buenos Aires where he focuses attention on an Indy car team owner who is willing to cheat (i.e. hire Nicky) to gain an advantage in the Indy Car championship. Bad move for the team owner, but brilliant move for us as things shift into high gear on the next ruse that may just be the one to bring Nicky to his knees.
The script, also by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, is fun and punchy and moves its plot along at a brisk pace, always keeping us on our toes while occasionally pulling the rug from beneath our feet just when things begin to get a bit too comfortably familiar. But surprisingly, the film’s real ace up its sleeve comes from the dialogue and the intimate moments shared between Robbie and Smith who display a remarkable on-screen chemistry. Not Brosnan-Russo remarkable mind you, but electrifying nonetheless.
There are enough good moments in Focus to distract and entertain, and when things begin to get a bit too convoluted for reason and logic to feel at home, we always know there’s Smith and Robbie to bring it back to center with the smartly-written dialogue delivered by the veteran on his way back to relevance and his apprentice who continues to show why she needs a shot at a much beefier role.
Then there’s the smooth and sexy soundtrack that plays nicely with the film’s slick sophisticated vibe. Confuse me, frustrate me, and pull the rug out from under me all you want, but so effectively feature Beautiful Day's White Bird, and you’ve got me hook, line, and sinker.
MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexual content and brief violence
Runtime: 104 mins
Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Writer: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro
Genre: Crime | Drama
Tagline: Never Drop The Con.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Die with the lie"
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Official Site: http://focusmovie.com/
Release Date: February 27, 2015
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: Own “Focus” on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital HD on June 2nd (see blu-ray tab above)
Synopsis: Will Smith stars as Nicky, a seasoned master of misdirection who becomes romantically involved with novice con artist Jess (Margot Robbie). As he’s teaching her the tricks of the trade, she gets too close for comfort and he abruptly breaks it off. Three years later, the former flame—now an accomplished femme fatale—shows up in Buenos Aires in the middle of the high stakes racecar circuit. In the midst of Nicky’s latest, very dangerous scheme, she throws his plans for a loop…and the consummate con man off his game.
Available on in Blu-ray Combo pack - June 2, 2014
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English for deaf and hard-of-hearing; French; Spanish; Portuguese
Audio: English; English descriptive audio; French (dubbed in Quebec); Spanish; Potuguese
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; Digital copy; DVD copy
Region Encoding: A
Focus is presented in a crisp 1080p picture with an immersive 5.1 surround. While the sound design is nothing special (it’s mostly an appropriate amount of auditory background clutter), the soundtrack is beautifully mastered and fills the room with its smooth, sexy vibe. The majority of interior drama scenes are overlaid with a retro film grain effect and monochromatic pops of color that harken to the classic con films of yore, while the exterior shots sizzle with brightly saturated colors and sharp details of the New Orleans French Quarter. This isn’t the best transfer to show off your system’s capabilities as it’s just not that kind of film, but few to no errors in the transfer make it a worthy addition to your blu-ray collection.
An alternate opening and five deleted scenes accompany three featurettes that make up the special features included on the disc. The featurettes are:
- Masters of Misdirection: The Players in a Con - Master real-life con man Apollo Robbins (who was hired as a production consultant on the film) discusses the art of deception as well as a rundown of the tools of the trade and con man lingo such as: The Wire, The Steer, The Stick, The Shade, The Mark and The Cannon.
- Will Smith: Gentleman Thief - Co-writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa along with Will Smith himself discuss the attributes needed to pull off the con man leading role.
- Margot Robbie: Stealing Hearts - Covers the training actress Margo Robbie undergoes with the tutelage of Apollo Robbins. Fortunately, plenty of time time is spent on the mechanics of the fascinating French Quarter pick pocket scene.
- Deleted Scenes - Five scenes that didn’t make the final cut.
- Alternate Opening - An entertaining alternate opening sequence featuring a brilliant con heist that takes place in a jewelry store rounds out this set of bonus features.
The standard definition DVD contains the deleted scenes only.