Will Smith was once had a formula for choosing the right role at the right time. Yet, sometime around 2008, when he worked on Hancock and 8 Pounds, he disappeared from the A-list for a few years. Granted, he did appear in the forgettable Men in Black 3, but has since worked on making his kids famous. This act has done him no favors and earned him even fewer good roles. His leading role in this weekend’s Focus could signal the return of Will Smith.
In Focus, Smith stars as Nicky, a professional con artist. In an all-too-convenient turn of events he meets Jess (Margot Robbie) as she attempts to set him up for a simple con. After being humiliated, she demands to be taught how to be a master criminal. Nicky then incorporates her into his large team of grifters and teaches her how to pickpocket.
Small crime is Nicky’s game. He doesn’t attempt to go for the long con because the personal risk is too high. The only risks that Nicky is ever willing to take are gambling on horses with a portion of his take. You see that gambling is the only part of his life that he can’t control. He is incredibly unlucky. Yet, he has complete control when it comes to persuading others to get what he wants.
It is with his fear of risk that he keeps personal relationships at arms length. This comes into play with his relationship with Jess. He doesn’t know who he can keep in his circle of trust. The movie also goes out of its way to make you doubt everyone’s motivations along the way.
The style of Focus is very reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven. Every scene was created with the intent to be beautiful, as if Smith and Robbie weren’t enough. Whether the movie follows the leads in New Orleans or Buenos Aires, each setting gives a vibrant backdrop that serves as the pretty facade to the betrayal that’s sure to happen.
Unfortunately, Focus is no Matchstick Men. There isn’t a gut punch that wraps up the story perfectly. In fact, the story here is the weak link. You may be so caught up in the chemistry between Smith and Robbie that you forget about the weak final third that loses….focus. (Sorry) There isn’t anything new that’s introduced to the genre. Many of the twists are not climactic and you can see them coming a ways off.
This is a solid return for Smith. He hasn’t lost an ounce of charisma. However, the greatest thing he accomplishes in Focus is boosting the star power of Margot Robbie. Between this, Wolf of Wall Street and next year’s Suicide Squad (which Smith is also starring in), she is proving to be a fantastic on-screen presence. Other than the two great leads, there are strong supporting performances by Adrian Martinez (the comic relief) and Gerald McRaney, in a great role as a personal bodyguard/goon.
Focus has a great sense of style that relies on the chemistry of Robbie and Smith to make you look past some steep plot holes and a weak third act. Being an R Rated con flick makes this a missed opportunity to reach a wider audience. B-