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

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.