Will Smith is back in Focus, not that he ever really went anywhere. One bad movie (After Earth) and people seemed to have written the movie star off.
In Focus, Smith utters lines that feel like they are Aaron Sorkin-esque in their speed, delivery and power, and it reminds us why we truly enjoy watching this guy on the big screen in the first place (what are our favorite Will Smith movie quotes?).
Smith is Nicky, a long-time con man with a team of specialists who appear -- from what we see -- to be the best in the biz. One night he is picked up by Jess (Margot Robbie) in a hotel bar and when she tries to swindle him in her hotel room under the guise of sex, he sees it coming a mile away. He then proceeds to tell her he followed her upstairs out of “professional curiosity.”
And so begins Nicky and Jess’ are-they-or-aren’t-they romance and his tutelage of her in the art of the con. He sees something in her and it’s a mutual admiration of mastering the illusion that moves money and belongings from other people's pockets to theirs.
From the streets of a Super Bowl-hosting New Orleans to Buenos Aires, Argentina and a Formula 1 racing king (played expertly by the always awesome Rodrigo Santoro), Nicky and Jess do their best to always make their mark and exploit it to the fullest. Con artist movies are a tricky endeavor. We as the audience have to pull for these people to do something that as a society we widely do not condone.
Yet, with stars as magnetic as Smith and Robbie, we want these two to go all the way. And what else is a treat is that they are not always on the same team. In fact, when they are at each other’s throats and dueling for the same prize, that is when Focus is at its most focused. Sometimes, the film does lose that and it gets muddled in the personality of the con artist, instead of delivering a deeper view of the people that are behind this life of swindling.
As we said, Smith is back and has a vehicle with Focus that is slick, charming, visually stunning and allows him to push buttons that he could hit home runs with all day long. That Super Bowl scene, for instance, is out of this world. If this film becomes a hit, which we think it will, that Super Bowl luxury suite moment will be its benchmark. It is stunning and will leave you breathless.
Robbie is a star. There was a reason that Martin Scorsese found her and gave her the shot of the lifetime to appear in The Wolf of Wall Street as Leonardo DiCaprio’s long-suffering wife. What she first teased in terms of brilliance in the Scorsese flick, she sends into the stratosphere in a much richer part in Focus. If she picks correctly, we think this Australian can have a long and successful Hollywood career.
Another reason why Focus works is that amongst the car chases and thrilling mind games, this is a love story. That “Will Jess and Nicky make it work?” mystery is as intriguing as any one of the cons that they pull on unsuspecting saps.
The reason for this element of storytelling is clear when you learn who is giving us Focus. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s last film they wrote and directed? It was Crazy, Stupid, Love. These two know their way around making rich characters that audiences pull for, and where in their last flick it was purely romance and comedy, our Focus review finds that their latest adds layers of thrills, intrigue and just all around coolness.