Focus (2015) Capsule Review
You might wonder of all the treats on offer at the cinema at the moment why I selected Focus of all things to go and see. Well, to be frank although it’s SF and it could provide insight into the next Alien movie Blomkamp’s Chappie looks embarrassingly terrible, a Short Circuit for the 21st century with a cutesy robot and title as bad as its grinding trailer. Hyena of course is on my radar as a surprisingly well received East Laanndddaannn crime caper you fackin kant, but I’ve already arranged to go and apprehend that next week with friends. So that leaves Focus, Will Smith’s nervous return to multiplexes following the interstellar critical crash of After Earth, and given that I love me a good con-man movie this wasn’t as surprising a choice as it may seem. The Sting, The Grifters, Nine Queens or any of Mamet’s cinematic sleights of hand are all admired around these parts, a well executed cerebral challenge of guessing the imminent twists and double crosses just gets my adrenaline pumping. Alas Focus isn’t quite the equal of those surreptitious scores, it doesn’t quite rope in its mark with criminal conviction, but it has a couple of moments which I felt justified the cost of admission;
Following the usual mentor / mentee paradigm Jess Barrett (Margo Robbie) is a novice grifter who falls under the lucrative wing of pilfering perfectionist Nicky Spurgeon (Smith), he leading a crew of small time cons who descend on major sporting events and the New Orleans Mardi Gras to liberate gullible marks of their wallets, purses and watches. Once the world and romance is established the film movies into the long-con game for the Argentinian section, revolving around a Macguffin plot of a Formula One gadget being sought by a panoply of mechanical teams, a high-speed diversion from the main drama – do Jess and Nicky actually love each other or is either, or both, playing each other? It’s bright, its breezy with a glaze of charm and humor, but the plot can’t quite keep up with its manipulative intentions. Will Smith is fine as the charming Nicky, and Robbie shows that she has a little more range than the trophy wife of Wolf Of Wall Street, but’s let’s be honest now – she is deployed as little more than eye-candy with a seductive pout. Still, the film struck me as quietly remarkable for one reason, as at the films centre is an interracial love affair which is singularly unremarked upon, the suitors respective skin pigmentation is not a cause of drama or conflict as they are in the likes of Jungle Fever, Imitation Of Life or even The Bodyguard, so I guess that’s some kind of progress. There is a smear of sophistication and gilded charm among the globetrotting narrative, the sleekly lit five-star hotel interiors and millionaire poolside exteriors, but when the chips have landed and the you’ve split the score I was yearning for more Oceans Eleven complete with the ensemble charisma;
I exited the cinema with a resigned shrug and a rueful regret that they couldn’t pull it all together for a spectacular real third act reveal, in fact if you’ve got any grounding in this genre then you’ll see most of the twists coming, but there is one sequence which I’m not going to spoil earlier in the movie which is worth admittance and is expertly executed – think Derren Brown at the Superbowl. So things are probably going to slow down a little here as I start a new contract tomorrow, although I do have a couple of BFI screenings planned and two director season reviews in the pipeline, and I have made some inroads into my first festival of the year – more on that soon. Until then this fantastic series of articles and analysis should keep you grooving…..