In these crazy doldrums of winter as we all fight off the “S.A.D.” in desperate hope of some warmer weather, this is also when the movie seasons start to change and the dreck that has littered the first two months of the year begins to fall by the way side. While not without some issues of its own, Focus is a solid crime thriller that keeps us hooked as Will Smith does some of his best work in years and Margot Robbie is now much, much more then the random blond from Wolf of Wall Street.
It’s just another day for Nicky (Will Smith) when he encounters Jess (Margot Robbie). Both are con artists but while Nicky is a seasoned master of the trade, Jess barely knows what she is doing. He takes her under his wing and teaches her the tricks of the trade, and they get close, very close but Nicky in his guarded ways, cuts off the relationship after a successful job together. Now three years later, the last person Nicky expects to show up while he’s working a job in Buenos Aries on the high stakes race circuit is her as she has now evolved into a full blown femme fatale. It’s a dangerous job and the stakes have never been higher for Nicky as he gets thrown off his game by the one woman who can throw him for an emotional loop.
Pure escapist entertainment in the vein of Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight or the Oceans’ Trilogy; Focus doesn’t quite hit those highs but it is a slick, well made story that never lets us get bored despite the occasional hiccup along the way.
A bit of a change of pace from the team behind the likes of I Love You Philip Morris and Crazy, Stupid, Love, but writer/directors Glenn Ficarra & John Requa have a solid eye as this is an attractive thriller that draws us in from minute one. They introduce the characters in a very strong way and get us right into the meat of the action from the get go. It’s very well shot and edited with a remarkable flow to it all as we never get too bogged down in any moments of unnecessary exposition. When it plays fast and loose, it does exactly that and when it is uncomfortable and awkward you’ll be squirming just for those moments to be over. The smaller moments play with a rather refreshing subtly as these storytellers never feel the urge to bash us over the head with too many plot points (at least until an awkward reveal at the end) but it is all in good fun and we can’t but enjoy watching the interplay between Smith and Robbie.
Easily his best feature outing in a film since I Am Legend in 2007, Will Smith finds a little of his leading man swagger that he seemingly had lost in this role as the suave yet guarded Nicky. He carries the film with ease and as he is transitioning into his Clooney-esque years (He’s 46), Smith can find himself plenty work balancing his smooth side with the occasional flash of genuine emotion. It’s what he is best at, and thank god he found his way back to a movie like this after the disaster that was After Earth.
While only a mere 25 years old, Margot Robbie has established herself as a genuine force to be reckoned with and she brings more than enough charisma and energy to the table to make up for the moments that feel a little flat. Robbie and Smith both have great chemistry together and despite the age difference between them, the romance angles all feel genuine and reel. Some solid supporting works comes in thanks to the likes of Adrian Martinez, Rodrigo Santoro, Gerald McRaney and BD Wong but even more so then Smith making somewhat of a comeback to respectability, this movie belongs to Robbie as she announces herself as a genuine star who can actually give us nuanced layers of character in a performance.
While it could have easily been buried had this been released in the summer or the in fall, but at the tail end of winter, Focus is a solid piece of entertainment from top to bottom and it makes for a solid trip to the movies.