Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Loaded with enough twists and turns to fill a warehouse, at its core crime caper Focus is essentially a romcom in disguise. Add to the mix some charismatic turns by its leads and plenty of action and drama and you get an unconventional love story that serves as a fairly gripping hour and a half of cinematic entertainment.
The plot follows aspiring con-woman Jess Barrett as she crosses paths with master of deceit, Nicky Spurgeon. Taking her under his wing, Spurgeon brings Barrett into a world of intricate schemes and machinations to hone her skills so that she can aid him in pulling off his next big swindle. Neither one is prepared for the effect they have on each other though, leading to a series of chaotic misadventures that could ultimately spell doom for them both.
There’s an audaciousness to the whole affair that keeps the movie engaging throughout. The story remains unpredictable by never revealing the full extent of the plan at hand, leaving us constantly guessing as to the true motivations and intentions of the protagonists. This manages to build suspense and create a reasonable amount of dramatic tension.
However, the deceptive nature of the narrative also works to its detriment at times. So regular and sudden is the duplicity of the characters, it becomes difficult to tell when they’re expressing their true thoughts and feelings. This can be a little jarring in terms of trying to invest in their plights and root for their success. Fortunately though, it is largely counterbalanced by engrossing performances from the leads that keep the story sufficiently intriguing.
Despite a fairly clever plot, fast pace and slick cinematography, the success of the film depends greatly on the likability of its key players, which is ensured by the irresistible charm of Will Smith and Margot Robbie. The captivating nature of Focus is owed in no small part to these two actors.
Smith is compelling as ever as scam artist Nicky Spurgeon. Such is the extent of the actor’s natural charisma that he manages to keep the character sympathetic even through some of his more dubious moments. While the wisdom of his actions may sometimes seem questionable, Smith never leaves any doubt as to the fact that Spurgeon has a heart. He manages to endow the role with a lot of emotion, playing it not unlike a criminal version of Hitch.
Robbie enjoys some wonderful on screen chemistry with Smith as Jess Barrett. The movie could never have worked if these two didn’t mesh well and thankfully they feel like a very natural fit together. Robbie portrays Barrett with a sense of feisty strength and determination that makes you believe she is more than capable of keeping up with the cunning Spurgeon, either as an ally or an antagonist. The interactions between them are a joy to watch, serving as the main narrative hook.
The fact that the script is so anchored around its pair of protagonists means that their co-stars aren’t given much time in the spotlight to distinguish themselves. Adrian Martinez is afforded some amusing moments as Spurgeon’s partner in crime Farhad, while B.D. Wong makes an enjoyable extended cameo as wealthy gambler Liyuan Tse during one of the more tense sequences. Other than that, there isn’t anyone who makes much of an impact. While Rodrigo Santoro is arguably the main villain of the piece, his part doesn’t end up being particularly memorable.
Ultimately the lack of a strong support cast isn’t a major issue though. Smith and Robbie prove more than capable of carrying the film on their own shoulders. Focus is certainly not without its share of flaws, but the talent of its two headlining actors and some admirably shrewd screenwriting provide a fun and absorbing viewing experience from start to finish.
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