Part of the joy of Focus is that it’s better than expected and reunites us once more with the Will Smith that we’ve come to know. And after the atrocities against cinema that were After Earth and Winter’s Tale, it’s safe to say that Smith is back on the right track, making these kinds of movies. And this film doesn’t deceive us in its setup because it is exactly what it tells us it is. And we have to keep the film itself in our focus, otherwise risk being deceived by the actions of the characters, which all cleverly end up being used for the finale.
Nicky (Will Smith) is a professional con man. He, along with a team of con men and women, which include his good friend Farhad (Adrian Martinez), run, well… cons. Big cons, small cons, millions of dollars’ worth of stolen goods and fooling people out of their money in deceptive, and clever, ways. After trying to con Nicky, Jess (Margot Robbie) is given a quick lesson in what it is to keep, if you will, focus in the con world and be able to fool people. And after getting more of taste, she wants in.
Three years later, the two find themselves reunited under unexpected circumstances. While running a con in Buenos Aires, Nicky finds that Jess is now dating Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro), the man he is working for. One thing leads to another and the two find themselves in a situation that turns out much differently than either of them had planned.
Focus is almost like one big magic trick. What our eyes see and what our ears hear, our minds believe, and this advantage plays right into the hands of the film. We’re so, pardon the pun, focused on following what is happening and knowing that it might be exactly what we expect, that one of the reveals does come as a bit of a surprise. The film remains entertaining, mostly due to the presence of Will Smith and Margot Robbie, who make the script more charming than it actually is. There are a couple of laughs, a bit of drama thrown in for good measure, but mostly it’s just a fun film. Nothing overly complicated, nothing over-the-top, a magic trick that does exactly what it’s supposed to do, which is keep the audience’s attention.
The colorful setting, along with the bright tone of the film, keeps it from taking itself too seriously. Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You Phillip Morris; Crazy, Stupid, Love.) ultimately know what kind of film it is, and they know from the get-go that audiences won’t be fooled into taking this film too seriously, so this is exactly how they play it. The characters aren’t hard to figure out and yet they will surprise some people.
However, one of the main issues is that the script plays too easily into labels, so that Margot Robbie’s Jess is someone who is often too simplistic in comparison to her male counterpart in running schemes. And what we think she might be up to, is not in fact what she’s up to begin with and in all actuality is much less than we might anticipate from her character given the world she associates with. The ending, too, is a bit predictable at times, yet is somehow still able to throw people off in one way or another. And once again, it’s because the film itself is a con, fooling everyone the entire way through, creating likable characters that are all very suspicious in nature.
Ultimately, Focus sees Will Smith make somewhat of a comeback in something much better than anything he’s been in in the last couple of years. Margot Robbie is also on the rise and if this film is any indication, then we’ll definitely be seeing more of her. The two leads have chemistry and create a fun atmosphere. The film doesn’t become this dramatic atmosphere of violence, nor is it complicated. It’s a simple plot, with a twist and a bit of romance thrown in. Nothing exceptional, but hey, it’s Will Smith back in much better acting shape and is fun. What more is there to ask for?