Focus had the chance to be great and instead makes for a good film that reminds you how charming Will Smith can be. Add to that another great performance from Margot Robbie and you’ve got two actors who could overcome any of the issues with the script, and its schitzo storytelling between the two halves, and makes for an all around fun movie that might be worth a rental.
Genre(s): Drama, Crime
Warner Bros. | R – 105 min. – $44.95 | June 2, 2015
THE MOVIE – 3.75/5
The last few years, Will Smith has been a non-factor in movies between Men in Black 3 (adequately rectifying the sins of the sequel), After Earth playing a supporting part in a vanity project featuring his son and a cameo role as the Devil in Winter’s Tale. In no instance did I see the old Smith and instead a man cashing in a paycheck and/or sleepwalking through his role. With that, my expectations for Focus was on the lower end and to my surprise, we get that charming version missing for so many years, and it’s his charm that saves this film which had some scripting issues.
Note: This portion contains SPOILERS concerning plot points, so readers beware!
Nicky (WILL SMITH) is a con man who, while eating at a high-end restaurant, encounters Jess (MARGOT ROBBIE), a sexy woman whom she sweet talks to her bedroom when, just as they are getting it on, in bursts a man with a gun claiming to be Jess’ husband. Nicky sees right through the con, which he saw coming from the get-go, which impressed Jess who wants to learn more, honing her own skills.
Reluctantly, Nicky takes Jess under his wing teaching her the tricks of the trade, the terminology and introduces her to his crew set up in New Orleans for the Super Bowl (the generic kind since not endorsed by the NFL) where they work the streets and bars, pick-pocketing unsuspecting victims and amass a $1.2 million fortune. It’s here where you know Will Smith is charming because he – along with his crew which includes character actor Brennan Brown (“Person of Interest”) and Adrian Martinez playing the comedic relief – is not good people, not just stealing wallets but credit cards and identities. But since Smith and Robbie, for that matter, are so charismatic, you go along with it.
The first half of Focus is pretty damn good culminating with a very suspenseful sequence involving a rich Chinese gambler playing hilariously over-the-top (in a good way) by BD Wong that is one of the best scenes in the movie. Unfortunately, where this scene should’ve ended the movie, we are taken to an entirely different film for the second half. We go from a movie about cons to a character study about a con artist. This wouldn’t be a big deal but it doesn’t exactly flow well until the end, an ending I kind of dug.
After dumping Jess, kind out of nowhere or perhaps because the screenplay said so and needed BS conflict, we fast forward three years. Nicky is on his own, running a con for rich race car owner Garriga (RODRIGO SANTORO) who suspects a rival (ROBERT TAYLOR) is trying to get his hands on Garriga’s specially designed invention that would give a major advantage on the racing circuit… or some such BS, it really doesn’t matter.
Getting paid a handsome fee, Nicky goes in with a solid plan but is taken by surprise when, while attending a party sees Jess for the first time in years and now dating Garriga. Jess in turn has apparently gone good and reveals Garriga knows nothing of her criminal past and she doesn’t want to be seen with Nicky, though for his part, he’s never gotten over her and over the course of the remainder of the film, he attempts to woo her back.
As I mentioned earlier, Focus is the tale of two movies: one is a straight-up con while the second half is part character drama, part romance and easily the weaker element, though Will Smith and Margot Robbie help mask any deficiencies with the script and at the end, you can’t help but be left with a smile on your face.
The film was written and by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy Stupid Love, I Love You Phillip Morris) and as uneven as the film is, it does have a slick look to it and some unique angles and scenes, such as one where we follow a background character as he makes some purchases, gets into a car, put a neck brace on and helmet before ramming, off-screen, into another car; it’s a fun and distinctive sequence that shows how much potential this film that the writers/directors never quite tapped in to.
Style-wise, this had shades of Michael Mann and, especially in the second half, Stephen Soderbergh to the point I kind of wish either one had directed. Beyond that, I had the distinct feeling Focus was an homage to the 1970s con films between the soundtrack which is filled with eclectic songs to go along with a nice score by Nick Urata (Paddington, The Cobbler).
In the end, Focus is hardly the perfect movie as its unfortunately rather uneven between the first and second halves but damn if Will Smith isn’t as charming as ever while Margot Robbie shows yet again, following her star-making role in Wolf of Wall Street, that she is on the rise and carry the female lead role so well, keeping pace with Smith and rising above any issues with the script.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.5/5
This release comes with a matted slip cover. Inside the case are a standard DVD Copy and a redemption code for the Digital HD copy.
Masters of Misdirection: The Players in a Con (10:25; HD) is a simple but interesting featuring an interview with con artist Apollo Robbins who served as a technical consultant.
Will Smith: Gentleman Thief (5:52; HD) is a profile on Smith and his character, Nicky.
Margot Robbie: Stealing Hearts (4:08; HD) delves into Robbie’s character and motivations.
Deleted Scenes (8:02; HD) – We get a selection of scenes mostly cut down and one with alternate takes; nothing amazing but worth a watch.
Alternate Opening (2:44; HD) is a different opening in which Nicky lifts an expensive necklace, and just about everything else from a jewelry store.
VIDEO – 4.75/5
Focus cons its way onto Blu-ray presented with a 1080p high-definition transfer and a 1.78 widescreen aspect ratio (originally shown 1.85 theatrically). The picture looks as good as any recent release. Detail levels are sharp while colors are generally cheerful in keeping with a relatively lightly tone of the film while other elements such as skin appear to be well balanced. It’s also a clean transfer free of artifacts and aliasing.
AUDIO – 4.5/5
One would assume a mostly dialogue-filled movie wouldn’t benefit from a 7.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio track but with the soundtrack and score, it makes for a fairly expansive and depth-filled audio experience where dialogue levels are, of course, crisp and clear, and the music help round things out. Clearly this is not demo worthy or anything but still pretty impressive.
OVERALL – 3.5/5
Overall, Focus had the chance to be great and instead makes for a good film that reminds you how charming Will Smith can be. Add to that another great performance from Margot Robbie and you’ve got two actors who could overcome any of the issues with the script, and its schitzo storytelling between the two halves, and makes for an all around fun movie that might be worth a rental, though I do question what kind of replay value it has.
The Blu-ray released by Warner offers solid video/audio transfers while the bonus material is rather limited, which has been Warner’s M.O. of late.
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.