I must admit that while it’s not one of my favourite sub-genres of cinema, but I still do enjoy a good con artist film. One of the reasons why I have fun with them is that play themselves like big elaborate magic tricks on the audience. You’re always second guessing where you think the story is going to go and just when you think you’ve got it figured out, the filmmakers are always able pull the rug out from under you and make leave feeling surprised by the end of it. That is why I very intrigued to check out the lasted film to come out of this sub-genre FOCUS, which stars Will Smith and fellow Aussie Margot Robbie (two actors I’m a big fan of). So was it any good? Well, I’ll tell you!
The film tells the story of Nick Spurgeon (Will Smith), an accomplished and successful veteran con artist who knows more about the job than anyone else. One day he meets Jess (Margot Robbie), a young grifter who unsuccessful tries to con him out of his money. Even though her con didn’t go well, Nicky sees potential in Jess. He decides to take her under his wing and teach her the ropes to become a truly skilled con artist. How things start to get complicated when they begin to fall for each other.
From reading the synopsis, you can easily tell that it sounds like it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table when it comes to the con film genre (I would be lying if I said it didn’t). But that being said, I thought it was still a solid and enjoyable film nonetheless. I’ve always found the way that con artists work and how they are able to do it successfully without getting caught rather fascinating. Writer/directors Glenn Ficara & John Requa (who previously directed I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS and CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE, and as well as scripting BAD SANTA) did a good job showcasing that in this film. Sure it’s probably not 100% accurate, but it does make for an entertaining watch (I quite enjoyed the section where “Nicky” and his crew did their cons in New Orleans). But besides that, I believe one of the main reasons why I did enjoy the film was because of both the film’s two main leads.
Will Smith and Margot Robbie both gave strong performances in their roles as “Nicky” & “Jess”. They both made quite a surprisingly good onscreen pair and their great chemistry with each other that adds an extra spark to the film. Even though Smith doesn’t quite stretch himself too much here with his role, but he is still likeable and charismatic turn from him nonetheless (although, he does get show his more dramatic side rather effectively during a couple of scenes). However there is no doubt in my mind that this film belongs to Aussie actress Robbie, who I thought in particularly did a really great job. Her performance here (and as well as her breakout role in Martin Scorsese’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET) proves that she is more than just a quote unquote ‘pretty face’, she is in fact an extremely talented actress who brought a lot of likability, charm, sexiness and depth to her character of “Jess”. I’m really looking forward to seeing what she does next cause I know she’s going to have huge career ahead of her. Plus the direction from Ficara & Requa was quite well handled, the cinematography was nicely done and the supporting cast were all solid (I particularly enjoyed Adrien Martinez and B.D. Wong’s performance. Also I dug the inclusion of veteran Aussie actor Robert Taylor, even though it was only a small role).
Now in terms of negatives: while there are a lot of aspects that I did like about the film but at the same, there’s nothing really memorable nor remarkable about it. As I said earlier in this review, Ficara & Requa’s script (which is still decent) doesn’t really add anything that we haven’t seen in other films about con artists that we’ve seen in the past. Sure it has some solid twists and turns but I think that if did a bit more with its story, it probably would have been a better film. For example, there’s a very interesting character flaw that they had for Smith’s character of “Nicky” that I thought was rather compelling. But after it was used effectively during a key scene, it’s completely forgotten about for the rest of the film (I do have a theory on why that is, but that would go into spoiler territory). I think if the filmmakers focused more on that, it would have made the film even more interesting but that’s just me. Also I didn’t think the 2nd half (which is set Buenos Aries), wasn’t as compelling as the 1st act in New Orleans and I thought that Rodrigo Santoro was very underused in his role.
Overall while isn’t a particularly memorable film by any means, but it’s still a decent and reasonably enjoyable film that’s elevated by its two lead stars. It’s not a film that would say that you need to rush to the cinema to see, but I say that it’s worth a watch when it comes out on DVD or BluRay. If you’re a fan of either Will Smith, Margot Robbie or even con films, than check it out for sure.
– Bede Jermyn