Thursday, 12 March 2015

Film Review: Focus


Focus is a high-stakes crime caper starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Rodrigo Santoro. It sees Smith play Nicky, a seasoned con-man who takes Jess (Robbie) under his wing to tutor her in art of hustling. Expect twists, turns and double-crosses that'll wrinkle your brain - but in a good way.

Will Smith hasn't had a great track record of late - not only did he famously pass on the role of Django in Quentin Tarantino's acclaimed 'Southern' Django Unchained, but his last two starring roles have ranged from disappointingly mediocre (Men in Black 3) to downright toxic (After Earth).

It's been a long time since his late 90's heyday, but Smith is still as popular as ever - look no further than his recent appearances on late night talk shows (and the viral videos that follow) to see how audiences scream and cheer for the guy. But can he still 'carry' a movie based on his name alone? Focus isn't based on anything - it isn't a book, comic, game, show or a remake - so the biggest factor it has going for it is Smith. It's almost outdated, the idea that a film only needs an 'A-lister' to be successful.

Maybe that's a blog post for another time, but the answer in relation to Focus is sort of a yes and sort of a no. It's definitely good enough to have earned your interest without having a pre-existing novel behind the scenes - but the real star who carries the film is not Smith.

Instead it's the Hitchcockian blonde bombshell that is Margot Robbie who steals the show. Yes, Margot Robbie (the stunning Naomi from Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street) steps into her own with this movie. She's smart, funny, sexy and every part the natural movie star her past work has hinted at.

That's not to say Will Smith isn't great in Focus. In fact, Smith gives a performance that is very un-Will Smith and frankly quite reserved when compared with his past work. That Bad Boys/Independence Day swagger is a thing of past - you can forget about hearing a "aww, hell naw!" or 'sonofabitch" in Focus. In it's place, Smith is quiet, mature and imperfect. His character is smart, but also deeply flawed. He's too soft or kind for the world he's in - not only does he fall head over heels for Jess (or does he?), but his gambling addiction makes him his own worst enemy.

Something that struck me about Focus were how broadly the supporting characters were painted. Where Nicky and Jess had some degree of depth, others were one-note and cartoonish. For example, a character named McEwan was constructed as a truly awful 'archetypical Australian' whose accent could grate cheese and every second word is 'fucking'. It's the kind of caricature you'd expect to find in a Seth MacFarlance film, not something slick and adult like this.

That's something I did like though - that Focus was an 'adult' movie. It could've very easily been a watered down crime caper that both kids and adults could've enjoyed. Instead, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (known for their past directorial work on Crazy, Stupid, Love) have served up a film that is almost ripped straight from the late 80's or early 90's in the way that it doesn't pander to a wide family audience.

Their direction is also really cool and stylish. They frame the stunning locations in a way that feels vibrant and colourful - plus, they played around with the focus a lot when Nicky or Jess lost their cool. I thought this was a nice touch, even if it is a bit on the nose.

The film is split into two very distinct halves - an Act I and Act II if you will. The good part is, both are really good and fit together to form a well-balanced movie. The first is snappier and all about introducing Jess' character to the world of hustling; the second is more character driven and all about building towards that final 'big con'.

I think I preferred the first half (I liked seeing Smith tutor Robbie on how to rob and cheat) but the second had more intrigue and deception to it - another plus. There are some plot holes large enough to poke a carrot through but nothing detrimental - the film simply skates across through a mixture of razzle-dazzle and sleight of hand. The section of the film where Nicky and Jess attend the Superbowl is simply brilliant. In fact, it's so great it could almost work as its own separate short film. It's got a clearly defined start, middle and end.

The Verdict: 7.5/10


Slick, smart and sexy, Focus marks the arrival of Margot Robbie and the return to form of Will Smith. The direction is gorgeous whilst the design and glamorous locales are loaded with enough eye-candy to distract from the unconventional pacing and minor narrative inconsistencies.

Focus is in cinemas now. 

8 comments:

  1. Great review! This might be one I check out on DVD for sure. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed a Will Smith movie, but I'm loving what I've seen of Margot Robbie.

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    1. Thanks Brittani :) Yeah, it's good to see him back on track - his last few haven't been super hot :)

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  2. Great review! So glad to read Robbie is excellent - she is my #2 for last year's best supporting actress, I cannot wait to see her Harley Quinn and I'm definitely seeing Focus for her

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    1. I can't wait to see Suicide Squad for that exact reason. Forget Will Smith and Jared Leto - Margot is going to kick ass in that movie. Thanks for commenting Sati! :)

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  3. Very interesting review! It's nice to see Will Smith "come back" and Margot Robbie is so amazing for this early in her career. I have super high hopes for her. Focus was a movie I really hoped to catch in theatres, despite its mixed review. I hope to catch it when it's out on dvd. :)

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    1. Thanks Katy :) I look forward to hearing your thoughts when you get round to seeing it! :)

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  4. I'm still uncertain if I'd want to see this, but I like Margot Robbie in her other movies so might give this one a shot. Great review!

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    1. Thanks! :) It was a lot better than I thought it was going to be and the current RT score is a bit harsh I think. I'd suggest checking it out :)

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