VOD film review: Focus
Ivan Radford | On 01, Jul 2015
Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie
Watch Focus online in the UK: Amazon Prime / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Will Smith. The goatee man’s Tom Cruise. Both have been reported saying bizarre things off-screen, but when the camera’s on, they’re charisma machines, almost impossible to resist in any role.
Smith dials the suave up to maximum for Focus, in which he plays a con artist – not just a con artist, mind, but one of the greatest con artists of all time. Even better than Adrian Lester off Hustle. Fans of the genre will be familiar with the game plan: set up a mark, establish an insider, take them for everything they’ve got. Focus, though, gives us a different take on the grifting system: Smith’s Nicky is the head of a large team, which swoops into town on big occasions and performs countless mini-cons, until everyone’s wallets in the area have been lifted. Then, they cash up, sell on, and move out.
Of course, there’s a woman involved too. That’s Margot Robbie, who plays wannabe thief Jess. Fresh from her turn in The Wolf of Wall Street, Robbie impresses with excellent comic timing, both physical and verbal – a sparky presence that Smith goes toe-to-toe with. Their obligatory flirting scenes are hugely enjoyable to watch, with each star competing to see who can charm the audience’s socks off first. But their chemistry comes alive in her introduction to his world: a dizzying display of deceptions that sees them both working marks, before building up to a faintly ludicrous – yet perfectly tolerable – showdown at a football event that is, for legal reasons, definitely not the Super Bowl.
Here, the film reveals just how much Will Smith brings to the table, convincing as a recovering gambling addict – complete with tear-filled eyes – while a panicked Jess tries to keep his urges in check. Not against using people as unwitting pawns, it’s a neat turning point for the script. The problem is that it’s also only the halfway mark: we then leap forward three years for a final half that, despite the earlier mission statement, does seem to involve a big con and lots of money after all.
It’s the start of a disappointing conclusion to Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s script, but the directors give events as much polish as they can: cleverly ducking in and out of mirrors, their cameras make everything look so glossy it’s like watching an Argos catalogue come to life. Our glamorous couple dance across the laminated pages of dreams, accompanied by Nick Urata’s uber-stylish score. The ending takes a leaf out of Agatha Christie’s book of left-field twists – along with a dated stereotype – but with Smith’s charisma machine turned up to 11, it’s hard not to get swept up in the sheer sassiness of it all.
Focus is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.