There is a simple genius to Focus that makes it one of the most enjoyable movie-watching experiences in recent memory. It’s twofold. First, create a conceit that immediately forces the viewer to question everyone and everything that is happening in the film. That is, when you set up a cast of liars, cheat, and thieves, the viewer knows something is up, just not what exactly.
Second, and perhaps most important, employ two of the most charming, entrancing, and watchable (which also means stunningly attractive) actors as your duplicitous leads.
With those constructs in place, it’s hard for Focus to go wrong, and in fact, it excels, proving clever and fun, a savvy and sexy cinematic diversion.
Nicky (Will Smith) is a veteran con man of particular success, as demonstrated early on by both his dexterous sleight-of-hand and his extensive, meticulously-constructed thieving enterprise. We bear witness to his operations while giving a tour to a passionate new recruit (the beautiful and indeed truly talented Margot Robbie). She proves to have the raw skills, what with being a mesmerizing distraction and light of touch, but with Nicky there is a chance to be properly groomed.
Of course emotions arise, complicating what are already complex matters in the world of conning. There is an elaborate set up in New Orleans amid a championship football game to glean money off bystanders big and small, involving Nicky’s trusted colleague Farhad (the very funny Adrian Martinez). Everything is calculated by Nicky and company, but so too by the filmmakers. Focus is in part a film you want to try and outsmart, however it’s thankfully one that isn’t trying to outsmart the audience.
That is to say, clever isn’t being sacrificed for that which could be surprising, and every single twist outcome has been carefully ingrained and sold throughout – just pay careful attention.
This almost interactive element makes Focus such a joy, a layered exercise in movie-watching. It’s buoyed by two leads that exude charm and have together great chemistry. They ground a film that is as tense as it is funny; it’s curious that here where we distrust everyone, the film triumphs because we believe in the characters (just not necessarily believe them).
Because of careful planning, Focus doesn’t fall short during its finale in a third act that more or less resets the entire film. Polished and poised, this film by Jon Requa and Glen Ficarra is a refreshing caper, satisfying on the mind and the eyes.