‘Focus’ review: solid caper film with lack of chemistry

By Ivan Mateo

Gearing up for DC’s heavily anticipated live action film “Suicide Squad,” Will Smith and Margot Robbie break for a quick pit stop to star in the romantic heist comedy, “Focus.”

“Focus” tells the story of professional conman, Nicky Spurgeon (Smith), and has a relationship with rookie con artist, Jess Barrett (Robbie). Con artists must lie about everything because of the distinct nature of the job. The key to keeping your focus is to never let your guard down physically and emotionally.

Every character presents multiple narratives to the audience, so we are left questioning which story offers any shred of authenticity. We tend to question ourselves as to which one of these characters actually tells the truth.

The film is equally divided into two parts, with the first part showing Nicky taking Jess under his wing as she learns the tools of the trade.

One of the more memorable scenes depicts Nicky playfully teaching Jess the art of sleight of hand by pickpocketing her watch, glasses and ring directly in front of her. He pinpoints each location people focus on and how they react to them.

Their business relationship blossoms exponentially into a romantic one. Anyone in proximity to them picks up on their chemistry. The only way to make a conman quit the specialized trade happens to be to con his heart, but Nicky realizes this quickly. The most important rule Nicky explicitly tells Jess is to “die with the lie,” so rather than keep her in his life, he pushes her away.

The latter half of “Focus” fast forwards in time and place and introduces new characters through a new, bigger con. Also, more twists and turns come into play as well, which may overwhelm audiences, especially when the story wraps up.

During scenes demanding emotion from its characters, the film’s cinematographic focus is simply on the expressions of Nicky and Jess, yielding underrated results.

Each time Nicky’s character appears to lose all his focus and money, he unexpectedly bounces back to the delighted surprise of Jess (and the audience as well.)

Adrian Martinez as Farhad provides lots of humor, albeit humor of the vulgar variety.

Heist films nowadays are meant to be fun and lighthearted, and “Focus” does not stray too far from the formula except for its dark moments. The film tries to be smarter than it needs to be, and sometimes this works. But other moments throughout “Focus” fall flat.

In life, we often focus so keenly on something in particular, causing tunnel vision. By focusing solely on one aspect, our minds trick us into thinking we control the particular aspect in our life, which is a huge mistake. We end up allotting wasted time to one subject, and all of the unfocused aspects show up and wreak havoc. “Focus” tries to approach this idea.

The film stands as a solid caper story, but Smith and Robbie display the essential chemistry to piece together enough of a roadmap that helps audiences sift through the unwarranted amount of twists and turns.

Audiences should be glad Will Smith returns with his familiar charismatic, comedic self, especially after the critically panned “After Earth.” Does this mark the successful return of Smith in good movies again? No, but this is a step in the right direction.

“Focus” is rated R for language, some sexual content and brief violence.

“Focus” is in theaters now.

3.6 stars (out of 5)

Focus

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Focus

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