“Focus” stars Will Smith as a top of the line con artist who takes on an inexperienced apprentice that might end up stealing more than his wallet. The two of them battle to find what’s true in a world where no one can be trusted and every motive is ulterior. Margot Robbie plays the apprentice, and lets just start by saying among the things she’s stolen in this movie, might just be the show. And that’s saying something when you’re up against the king of charisma, Mr. William Smith.
The truth is they are both really, really good in this. Both maintain a deep and affecting charm that make it hard not buy into this world and wanting to know exactly how it might play out. That curiosity is of course heightened by the ins and outs of the various cons of the movie itself that play like some sort of tightly woven tapestry of deceit and doubt. The movie is also really funny, which may just be my favorite thing about it. I mean, let’s get real here, it’s hard to pull off a con man flick. The writing has to be clever, the payoffs have to be worth it, and you’re basically daring the audience to out think you. In the wrong hands that’s a recipe for distraction and disappointment, but in the right hands, like a think we have here, you come away satisfied and having enjoyed the ride. Sure, all that sleight of hand movie twist trickery is here, but it’s buffered by, get this, an actual story that pulls us through to the next con and keeps us interested even if the gimmick occasionally doesn’t work.
And that’s where the movies real weakness is, it plays its cards early and often, meaning there are many opportunities for us to be disappointed at the reveals, or get lost in the plot twists. The other side of that is that if do find a certain development underwhelming, well, we’ll be on to the next one pretty quickly, so no need to hold on to it. In some ways, I think that can get exhausting to an audience, but if you’re built to dissect plots and try to think ahead, it can be a real joy, even with the occasional disappointment. Quick aside: Why are we still doing the fake pro football team thing? They go to a “SuperBowl” type event in this between the Miami Kings and the Minneapolis Sharks, or some such nonsense. I get that licensing can be expensive, but so can having a crucial scene of your film completely take the audience out of reality. Of course, maybe the movie is taking place in an alternate reality, and what we are actually seeing is a sci-fi flick about how deception interplays with quantum mechanics and theoretical physics. No? I didn’t think so.
Overall, “Focus” is a well written, well acted, and complex series of mostly satisfying twists and tricks. Though in the end, the real con may just be that you go in expecting a brain bending twisty rug puller, but instead walk out also having experienced a genuine story about trust and relationship. I say it lands its mark with a B.