Director: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie
Will Smith is without a doubt a great actor. Throughout my life, I’ve enjoyed the majority of his work – from ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ to ‘Wild Wild West’ and ‘I-Robot’ to ‘Hitch’ and plenty in between. But the thing about Will Smith is, he’s never taken that substantial risk. He never had ‘The Beach’ like DiCaprio or an ‘American History X’ like Norton or ever gotten weird like Brad Pitt in ‘12 Monkeys’. Smith’s roles are always the gregarious, intelligent protagonist. He flashes that trademark smile, spits out witty, stock lines with a candor that would make any grandma blush, and never fails to save the day. It has never felt like Smith challenged himself, explored his darker side, and consequently, unleashed his full potential. Will Smith created a certain sharp, stylish, ‘good-guy’ brand and has rarely wavered from it. But in that, perhaps there is brilliance.
Within 10 minutes, I thought ‘Focus’ was going to bomb. Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) seemed incredibly out of place, and everything Smith did was ever so cliché. It looked certain we were due for a letdown similar to the utter turkey that was ‘After Earth’. Then, it rebounded. The film caught its stride as we began to see Smith work his magic in the sprightly French Quarter pickpocket scene. Maybe setting 1/3 of the film in New Orleans (where I’m from) reeled me back in, or the fact that the degenerate, gambling football coach character was played by a mate of mine’s Dad, or a combination of the two, but just as soon as I had soured on ‘Focus’, it cleverly sucked me back in. And I’m glad it did. What followed plays out as one of the most clever heist methods I’ve ever seen.
Will Smith plays a lifelong conman, named Nicky, who is so adept at thievery that he could steal the fanny-pack from around your waist, which in fact we see him do. He embodies the classic Will Smith ethos – adroit, canny, and unreservedly likable, even as a thief! Smith goes from con to con with his talented crew, always playing it relatively safe, until Nicky believes he’s found the one score to finally get out the game altogether, yet he’s cynical to admit it. A concept we’ve never seen before, right? Robbie on the other hand, is the up-and-coming con artist, who just wants Nicky to teach her his mystical ways. As his tagalong trainee, they reluctantly fall in love, until he spurns her, knowing he can never get too attached given his dangerous lifestyle. Again, what an unprecedented notion in film! Robbie for the most part, was quite hit or miss. When she’s on, she can be magic, but I remain skeptical as to the limits of her acting prowess, for the record.
It is the supporting cast that glues this film together. Gerald McRaney’s (House of Cards) character is such a condescending old man, that it serves to balance the lighthearted touches out. His rant calling our generation lazy, entitled, and too sarcastic for our own good was pretty spot on. McRaney’s back and forth with Smith throughout really ties the plot together as well. Then there’s Adrian Martinez, who plays Smith’s fat, smart hacker friend – every con man’s got one – that gives notable comic relief when posing as a professional football player amongst other times.
Principally, you know what you’re paying for with ‘Focus’. You know what Will Smith does and it rarely disappoints. The story arc of ‘Focus’ is rather familiar, but with a modern attitude to it. The con scenes are fast and exciting. The romance scenes are sincere and touching. Smith & Robbie clearly have dynamic chemistry; further they’ll be appearing in the upcoming ‘Suicide Squad’ film together as well. ‘Focus’ is everything that works in Hollywood these days; it’s sexy, it’s sophisticated to a degree, and it shuns negativity. Frankly, it’s worth watching. Nevertheless, in the back of my mind, I’ll always be wondering, is there more to Will Smith? But hey, what do I know? Keep cashing those cheques, Will.