When done right, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a con man movie. It’s pure escapism, as the audience gets to revel in the “heroes” pulling one over on the clueless without feeling like they’re getting their own hands dirty. And when the ones doing the conning are pretty and charming — and they usually are — it’s a bonus.
The latest film to deal in skullduggery is Focus. In it, Will Smith plays Nicky, a con artist skilled at diverting people’s attention in order to steal stuff from them such as wallets and watches. Jess (Margot Robbie) is an aspiring scammer who gloms onto Nicky in hopes of improving her game.
Smith, whose last three starring efforts were relative failures, needed a film like this.
Written and directed by Glen Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love), the film is a nonstop ride because it essentially focuses on two big set pieces: one in New Orleans for a Super Bowl-like football game and one in Argentina set around a Formula One-like race. At the former, Nicky and his crew focus mostly on smaller targets, but the stakes grow much higher in South America when Nicky is called upon to be a gun-for-hire.
Like any good con man movie, it’s difficult to trust anything anyone says. In fact, until proven otherwise, you can pretty much assume that everything you hear is a lie, which is all part of the fun. A romance of sorts blooms between Nicky and Jess, but whether they truly have feelings for each other or they are just using one another is a question throughout the entire film.
Ficarra and Requa do an excellent job at setting up each sequence, doling out just enough information to keep the audience interested while also keeping them in the dark so as to not give everything away. Whether or not you see the end result as predictable, it’s a hell of a lot of fun getting there.
Smith, whose last three starring efforts were relative failures, needed a film like this. At his peak, there are few stars better at being as witty, charming and likable, even when he’s playing a scoundrel. Robbie, who burst onto the scene in The Wolf of Wall Street, holds her own, although she is definitely second fiddle to Smith.
In the end, the goal of Focus is not to blow your mind with story trickery but to deliver as entertaining a film as possible. Thanks to spot-on writing, directing and acting, you’ll be focused on the screen the whole time.