Dir: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Writer(s): Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Adrian Martinez, Rodrigo Santoro, BD Wong, Brennan Brown, and Gerald McRaney
Synopsis: In the midst of veteran con man Nicky’s latest scheme, a woman from his past – now an accomplished femme fatale – shows up and throws his plans for a loop.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
Con Artist films are always tough. The cast and crew have try their best to not give too much away, but gives us enough that they don’t lose the audience. But, if they do lose the audience, they have to get them back right away. Basically, con artist films have to play a con on the audience, but do it in a great way or the audience will turn on them. Focus, surprisingly, keeps us engaged enough that we don’t turn on the film, but it struggles from time-to-time to keep us engaged.
Focus follows Nicky (Smith), a lifelong conman who hires an eager protégé Jess (Robbie), after a failed attempt to scam him. However, he sees the potential in her and decides to take her under his wing. He doesn’t hold back and the two go down to New Orleans for Super Bowl to show how big Nicky’s operation, and eventually they start falling for each other, which goes against Nicky’s rule of “there’s no room for heart in this game.”
I’ll be the first to admit that I was not really suspecting much from Focus, but I was mildly surprised how much of the film actually worked. The film even works as two parts, I don’t know if directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa divided the work, but the first half of the film focuses on Nicky teaching Jess everything he knows and setting the ground work for their relationship especially for things later on. The second half of the film takes place in Buenos Aires where Nicky reunites with Jess after a fall out in New Orleans and where he is doing a job.
Ficarra and Requa create some great tension when need be and that is when the film is at its best. When the film starts to slow down it does take away from film and leaves little to be desired. Nothing against Smith or Robbie, because they do have some great chemistry but after great tense filled scenes, the slowing down scenes are just that: slow. There is also some technical things, like the Super Bowl game, isn’t really the Super Bowl even though they are playing it at the Mercedes Benz Stadium and it’s a championship game. Small stuff I know, but still.
The supporting cast is also great, sometimes stealing the spotlight from Smith and Robbie. Adrian Martinez plays Farhad, an old friend of Nicky’s and the comic relief, and while his character is a bit thin but whenever he shows up it does add some air to the scenes. BD Wong appears as a Chinese high stakes gambler, in one of the better scenes of film and really does steal the show a bit from Smith. Rodrigo Santoro is a racing millionaire who hires Nicky for a job and is the weakest of the supporting roles, probably only because he doesn’t have much to do. Finally Gerald McRaney is Santoro’s character security agent, and McRaney is always reliable and is the same here.
However, Focus belongs to Will Smith and Margot Robbie. Will Smith brings back the usual charisma that we all loved about him and proves that he could still lead a film, if the doubt was in anyone’s eyes. Margot Robbie holds her own against Smith and continues to prove she is a star on the rise and is here to stay.
All in all, Focus might stumble from time to time, but with a great cast and standout scenes, it becomes more than an average con artist film.
3.5 out of 5