Con-movies are one of the hardest types of movies to pull off successfully—much like an actual con-job. You have to keep the viewer caught up just enough to not lose interest, while also being enough ahead of them to know exactly what’s going to happen while not blatantly revealing it. Focus, an edgy, lop-sided thriller, fails like many others at being creative enough to fool the audience as its story runs too long in a lot of different directions, but thanks to Will Smith’s charm and Margot Robbie’s allure, we are still deceived into getting some solid entertainment out of it.
Will Smith’s Nicky Spurgeon is good at his job—too good. He can pickpocket anything and lie to get out of every situation. When he meets Margot Robbie’s Jess, an amateur pickpocket and con-woman, he falls for her, but then lies to her to get out of it to avoid the pitfalls of romance on the con. This brief affair comprises what feels like half of the movie. With a third of that focusing on an overly long con scene that passes by like an eternity as it has nothing to do with the overall plot of the film—which is pretty barebones as is. The real plot comes about halfway through when, three years after the first half, Nicky and Jess meet again and trouble comes their way in the form of a long-con and the uncertainty of whose motives lie where. If you’re looking for a gripping story, that has unpredictability and twists, look elsewhere because you can pretty much tell what’s going to happen once you are introduced to the main players.
Thankfully though, the bland story is made up for by Smith and Robbie who both give suave, sexy performances as the conning couple. Though it isn’t much of a stretch from Smith’s usual personas, he is still a delight to watch in a role that seems to be tailored to his non-action movie style. Robbie, who gained recognition after The Wolf of Wall Street (and will be playing Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad along side Smith,) is sultry and naive. As she grows as a pickpocket, she starts to use everything she’s got to distract, confuse, and eventually scam anyone she wants. She has a seductive air to her, and shares an enticing chemistry with Smith making their scenes both exciting and fun, but she also has the strength to make her a formidable character and not just a sex-symbol.
The supporting cast, which is made up of an odd mixture of actors, consists of Adrian Martinez, Rodrigo Santoro, and Gerald McRaney. Their characters are hardly established and only serve as plot devices conceived to move the struggling story forward. It doesn’t help that they are vastly overshadowed by the towering figures of Smith and Robbie who are the primary…focus…of the film.
In the end, Focus is not your next great con-movie. It offers a different sort of appeal than last years American Hustle, but ultimately its story drags it down to nearly a point of no return. Without Smith and Robbie this would have been a disaster, but don’t let the other reviews con you into thinking there isn’t anything here.