Review: FOCUS, A Fun Trifle
It's fair to say that Focus is the best Will Smith film in what seems like several decades. It's equally fair to say that's not exactly saying very much.
Still, this quirky con-man flick is actually loads of fun, due to a strong performance by Mr. Smith, and an even stronger turn by Margot Robbie. She's
the lynchpin of the film, perfectly attenuated to the circuitous plot. She's the most distracting thing in a story about distractions, and helps make
the work something more than just another silly confidence-man ploy.
Robbie's good, yet I churlishly wish larger audiences got to see her in Z for Zachariah first after her breakthrough role in The Wolf of Wall Street. Yes, she smoulders in Focus, but that's less of a surprise given what she did in Martin Scorsese's film. Having seen what she can do in Craig Zobel's flick, it made me even more appreciative of her talent, and didn't have me simply checking back on her role in Wolf.
Adrian Martinez does a terrific job as well playing the zaftig sidekick, while Gerald McRaney kicks it up another notch. He's been terrific of late on the small screen (especially on Deadwood), and his gruff demeanor resonates well with the storyline. Even B.D. Wong makes a turn as a compulsive gambler, almost unrecognizable as he plays the broad role with relish.
Any film that tries to hoodwink its characters and the audience has to have a pretty good hook, and thankfully writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa manage to provide the right mix of complexity and coherence. This is a film that if you think about it too much it falls apart, so it's best to let it play out as an enjoyable distraction. Sure, you know you're being played, and if all you do is stay on guard for the latest twist it will become tedious indeed. Let your self be toyed with, on the other hand, and you're bound to have some fun.
There's a glossiness to the film that is enjoyable, and the sport set-pieces (offbrand NFL and Formula 1) give it a sense of grandeur. New Orleans makes for a good backdrop for mega scams, it seems. There's a bit of Oceans 11 swagger at play, to be sure, but thankfully Focus manages to set its own course, finding its rhythms along the way that are both brisk and engaging.
Yes, most of the story works as a con upon other cons, but the screenwriters wisely toy both with our expectations and even audience cynicism.
All is forgiven, however, when you get some pretty memorable and mercurial moments of manipulation between the leads. The chemistry seems genuine, and after Smith's latest romps where he generally seems to have completely checked out, here he feels completely committed without verging on overkill. It's a reminder about his charm as a performer, and with a complex and radiant Robbie beside him, there's lots to like.
So, yes, it's a trifle of a film, but it's a super fun one, like a magic trick that you know how it plays out but enjoy the show anyway. Focus keeps its focus strictly on entertaining its viewers, providing enough complexity to make it interesting but not too much puffery to make it plodding. There's an elegance to its construction and execution that's to be applauded, and if it's not exactly revelatory, it's certainly fun to watch.