Movie Review: ‘FOCUS’ – Not Quite 20/20, But Enough Charm To Up the Stakes

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Cole Clay // Film Critic


FOCUS | 104 min | Rated R
Director: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Rodrigo Santoro

People tend to forget Will Smith’s turn as the mysterious and insatiably charismatic confidence man in the 1993 comedy SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION. This was a performance that showed a nuance to his acting that had yet to be tapped into during his time on THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR. Smith has yet again channeled the undeniable charm that made him a box-office juggernaut– now that he’s taken a break from pimping his kids out to the entertainment world. Smith goes tit for tat with his co-star Margot Robbie in her follow-up role the the star-making performance she gave in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.

Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are the reliable filmmaking duo behind the salty dialogue of BAD SANTA, and the more recent tenure behind the camera for the slick, crooner film CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE. We have seen grifter movies enough times where it no longer has the novel appeal, but with FOCUS, they hone in the art of deception with a scintillating narrative that (and I mean this as a compliment) never tries too hard to overwhelm.

Will Smith and Margot Robbie star in FOCUS. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Will Smith and Margot Robbie star in FOCUS. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Smith plays Nicky, a con-man who has all the angles covered at all times, in other words he’s “focused.” After a failed conning by the prodigy Jess (played by Robbie), the duo team up in a mentor/intern dynamic that turns into something more after a high stakes betting scam at the Super Bowl. After Nicky abruptly ends their professional and personal relationship, they unexpectedly cross paths again three years later when they discover they are after the same mark, a double-dealing race-car driver (Rodrigo Santoro).

Where most films of this ilk rely on curtain calls and slight-of-hand to be captivating, FOCUS showcases the jaunty nature of the business while letting the two leads have a fun, breezy relationship. The only issue with the film is Robbie is at times treated as a prize to be won, but this perspective could be result of the voyeur’s perception rather than the filmmakers.

FOCUS is never too clever for its own good, while still managing to be an out of the ordinary film. Luckily, for Smith and Robbie, the duo have an undeniable charm that carries this duplicitous escapade.

FOCUS opens tonight.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.