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Focus (Will Smith/Margot Robbie) - Review

Focus

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

IF YOU’RE smart, it’s the chemistry between Will Smith and Margot Robbie that you’ll focus on in this romantic thriller rather than the intricacies of some of the cons.

For while Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s film undoubtedly thrives on the interplay between its two central protagonists, the two big cons themselves struggle to hold up to much scrutiny. But it’s a measure of how good Smith and Robbie are that this doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment.

Smith stars as Nicky, a seasoned conman who, against his own advice, becomes romantically involved with novice con artist Jess (Robbie), while teaching her the tricks of the trade in New Orleans.

Upon realising that she is getting too close for comfort, he abruptly breaks it off, prompting the film to jump forward three years as Nicky is setting up another high stakes con, only to find the scheme undermined by the return of his former flame, now an accomplished femme fatale, who could also be working her own scam on the Buenos Aires-based racecar owner that Nicky has targeted.

The big hook of Focus is trying to decipher the truth from the various lies and mis-directions the central characters employ to get the job done. Hence, there are persistent doubts over the validity of their apparent feelings for each other, which lends each encounter an extra edge. Who will be screwing who in the psychological sense?

This one upmanship, in turn, helps to draw some great performances from the main two. Smith, who fired up his career playing a conman in Six Degrees of Separation as he was starting out, trades on some familiar traits here (confidence, charisma, etc) but slowly starts to unravel amid the confusion caused by his feelings for Jess. Or is he simply playing a game? No matter, it’s fun seeing Smith explore a range of emotions and exhibiting some hitherto untapped vulnerability for a change.

Similarly, Robbie infuses her Jess with the same raw sex appeal she brought to Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street while also combining elements of innocence and naivety. She is a mesmerising presence: not just breathtakingly attractive, but a worthy sparring partner for Smith. The two are great together.

And just as they did with Crazy Stupid Love writer-directors Ficarra and Requa show themselves to be really adept at juggling complex emotions with comedy and drama. Focus has enough smarts to make you laugh and care in all the right places.

Where it falls down slightly is in the nature of the cons themselves. For while flashy and suitably slick, they rely on a huge suspension of disbelief and actually place an unnecessary strain on credibility. It’s almost as if the film is trying to dupe audiences into thinking it’s being more clever than it really is, which feels like a con in itself.

But if you can forgive the film its indiscretions, there’s still more than enough to enjoy and Focus is still smart and stylish enough to capture the attention of both sexes – which is no mean feat in itself.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 104mins
UK Release Date: February 27, 2015