Meant in the nicest possible way, Focus is an archetypal example of a modern Hollywood movie. It’s very shiny, cleanly shot, and charismatic, but lacking any real depth to set it apart from the competition. It’s well meaning and entertaining, but it certainly won’t be pulling up trees any time soon.
I say “in the nicest possible way”, because in spite of this, it’s actually quite a fun film. The Fresh Prince himself is back, and back in good form. Meanwhile his co-star Margot Robbie puts forward her best case of being a viable leading actress yet, with her likeable turn as Jess Barrett, a wannabe grifter who falls under the wing (and then in love with) Smith’s veteran con man Nicky.
After pulling off a job together, Nicky leaves Jess high and dry, leading them down separate paths until they meet again three years later when Nicky is on a job in Buenos Aires, and Jess is with the very man that her former lover is trying to con.
It’s a simple set up, for a simple film. Yes there are twists, turns, betrayals, backstabs, and mishaps along the way, but essentially this is a fairly straight forward romantic drama/comedy underneath it all. The twists and double twists keep it fresh though (whilst teetering on the edge of ridiculousness at times), and the cool, lighthearted, “sexy” tone is entertaining – but its successes are largely down to the casting.
It’s all about the chemistry here. Without Margot Robbie and Will Smith, there is a good chance that Focus could have fallen flat, but thankfully the lead duo work brilliantly together, and elevate proceedings regardless of the thinly constructed script they work with. And thank goodness as well, because the supporting cast is more or less none existent, with the small number of side characters being reduced to little more than plot devices.
Worryingly, even the main villain of the piece Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro) fails to match up to the level of energy and importance that the Robbie/Smith combo bring, and he therefore pales in significance, and fades away with scant resolution at the film’s climax.
It’s a shame that the supporting cast, and the film’s villain haven’t been executed all too well, because at its core Focus does get a fair amount right. The leads are great, the con aspects of the film are exciting to see unfold, and it’s got some glamorous appeal – but ultimately it lacks the depth to make it anything more than light entertainment. But there’s always room for a little bit of light entertainment from Will Smith, right?
Focus is an imperfect film, elevated by charismatic, and likeable lead characters, brought to life by the excellent pairing of Will Smith and Margot Robbie. Don’t expect anything particularly mind blowing, but do expect to enjoy yourself in spite of its flaws.
Rating (out of 5):