There are certain expectations for “Focus“, a romantic comedy heist film that stars “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” star Will Smith and “The Wolf of Wall Street” star Margot Robbie. Other than the plot itself, the movie immediately caught our attention because Smith and Robbie are teaming up as a pair of con-artists before flexing their criminal muscles as Deadshot and Harley Quinn in Warner Bros’ upcoming DC Comics film “Suicide Squad“. Considering how Deadshot and Harley Quinn were romantically involved in the DC Universe, this con-artist flick is sort of like a prequel for the “Suicide Squad” movie.
“There’s a science to getting people to trust you,” says Nicky Spurgeon, a not-so-trustworthy character portrayed by Smith. He is a seasoned con-man who distracts his victims while stealing their personal belongings. He’s a smooth criminal and a gentleman thief who made stealing looks like an invincible form of art. Funny how a thief named Nicky appears in Canadian heist film “The Art of the Steal” too.
He is no match for an attractive young woman named Jess (played by Margot Robbie), who comes into his life after her failed attempt to scam him. Although she is a woman with a force of nature, she is a novice con-artist who needs Nicky to guide her and show her all the effective scamming tricks. As per requested, he decides to teach her the tricks of the trade and she quickly becomes a skilled con-artist. But if you think this movie will explain how they pull off their tricks, think again. Writer-director duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa made it clear from the beginning that they are the ones playing a trick on you. Although it’s a con-artist flick, they focus (no pun intended) on the relationship between Nicky and Jess instead of their tricks. The tricks are incredibly smooth and sleek yet they never describe how they managed to pull them off.
Ficarra and Requa set the tone of movie by using the sultry jazz music in the opening scene, which helps create a sleeker version of their usual rom-coms such as “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “I Love You Phillip Morris”. Nicky and Jess later become romantically involved with each other but when Jess gets too close for comfort, Nicky abruptly abandons her. See, this is why most people have trust issues when trust is the most important thing in a relationship. It’s even worse for Nicky and Jess because scamming and stealing are part of their routine.
It’s clearly a bad break up as it takes 3 years for Nicky to get back into the scene and show up in Buenos Aires for his biggest heist ever. He deals with Rafael Garríga (played by Rodrigo Santoro), a millionaire Spanish race car team owner who has the secret weapon that everyone wants in the racecar industry. With his particular set of skills, he gains the confidence and trust from Garriga and his head of security Owens. He tells them how the “plan” was supposed to be executed at a party but when he’s about to perform his trick, he bumps into Jess again. But this time around, she is not alone; Jess is romantically involved with the very man that Nicky is getting into business with.
Clearly, Nicky hasn’t really gotten over Jess as her sudden appearance throws his plan for a real loop. Can Nicky pull off the heist? Will he choose to “never drop the con” and “die with the lie” instead? That’s for you to find out when it’s out in the cinemas.
The writer-director duo takes a clever and emotional approach with more emphasis on the romance elements of the story. Despite being raised in the world of deception, Nicky is good at reading human behaviour and smooth at engaging a stranger in a conversation. He has a huge team of talented con-artists to execute his long con and they work in unity like an actual organisation. Considering how Will Smith failed to showcase his talent in 2013’s “After Earth”, his performance has somewhat improved as it’s not as cringe-worthy as I thought it’d be. This is a slightly bumpy yet great comeback for Smith and I look forward to seeing more of him in the future.
As for Robbie, she is incredibly attractive as Jess and despite the huge age difference, she displays great chemistry with Smith. However, we can’t help but notice that the couple is like the watered down version of the married assassins in “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” or the real-life criminal couple Bonnie and Clyde. They didn’t try to kill each other but perhaps this is what Ficarra and Requa intended to show: Thieves can fall in love even though trust is a tool for them to manipulate people.
Nicky and Jess are not the most interesting characters though. Despite only having supporting roles, Adrian Martinez, BD Wong, and Gerald McRaney outshone Smith and Robbie with their short yet memorable appearances in “Focus”. Martinez plays a “500 pound Persian” named Farhad, who is a longtime friend and a vital member of Nicky’s team. He is smart and witty, which is why it seems like he is given the best line in the movie. BD Wong truly leaves a lasting impression with his cameo appearance as a rich Chinese gambler. The same can be said about McRaney, who turns up with his fierce yet grumpy role. As a head of security for Garriga, he pivots his performance in a key sequence toward the final part of the movie.
“Focus” can be a highly entertaining heist film with outstanding cinematography. Cinematographer Xavier Pérez Grobet flaunts the beauty of the cities by highlighting the beautiful aspects New York, New Orleans, and Buenos Aires. The visual style is on par with the movies with amazing cinematographies such as “Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, and “Birdman”. The single-take moments are delivered with such perfect timing that it’s hard not to be amazed by them.
Slated for release on 27th February 2015, “Focus” is produced by Denise Di Novi and executive produced by Charlie Gogolak and Stan Wlodkowski.