Review: “Focus” mostly lives up to its name

By Matt Rooney

It’s really hard to blame a late February release starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie as con artists for not being complex enough­­­­—especially when it’s so pretty to look at. These two actors elevate something that could’ve been throwaway entertainment to just slick entertainment, which is fine with me.

Usually con movies aren’t very good. They are either some Guy Ritchie wanna-be rip-off or some heist comedy involving some overweight everyman who pratfalls, I’m gonna say, three times. But here, writer/directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra inject a little bit of cool that has sorely been missing from the genre.

This is good because it makes up for the often lack of realism I couldn’t help but notice during some of the thievery moments. I have to admit I’ve fallen a bit out of touch with my swiping roots since I gave hustling for nickels on the coast of Connecticut, but I don’t think the most appropriate way to go about it is to throw your loot around like Dwarves throw dishes in “The Hobbit”. At least everyone looks good while doing it

After the plane-crash-that-collided-with-a-train-wreck called “After Earth” it’s refreshing to see Smith that doesn’t look so cheap and expensive. As ‘in the game too long” Nicky he swaggers from scene to scene with an aged sense of suave that will make women in the audience really examine the man they’re with. Add in some truly gripping scenes of emotional realization and the concoction is one of the better performances in a long while.

As for Robbie, fresh of the heels of a dynamite intro to the film world with “Wolf of Wall Street”, continues to prove she has the chops to go toe-to-toe with one of Hollywood’s biggest players. She jumps right in as Jess, the blonde girl-next-door who will also steal your wallet. She’s calm, sexy, funny and just as cool as Smith. The chemistry is palpable when it could’ve been “Twilight”. Smokey is the best way to describe their scenes. It may make you hate your current relationship.

Even though this is a con movie I think it works better as a romance story simply wrapped in the world of thieves. The first half introduces us to their game and their relationship, while the second half (taking place three years later) has already set up the emotional stakes, making the potential con all the more engaging. There’s not a whole lot going underneath it all, but thanks to some clever insight and consistent humor it’s not short on entertainment.

Those who pay attention to cinematography may almost be willing to call it art. Look to a scene during a football scene wherein Smith sinks deeper and deeper into a gambling scenario. The camera shifts in and out of…ahem…focus with each blow. Even when the characters are basked in the warm, yet dark light simple light of a hotel or the colorful shine of Buenos Aires a la any Bond movie the stage is set for true con thriller, even if it is more of a romantic dramedy.

Now, though I was sold the entertainment-over-complexity angle, the movie strays into borderline stupidity in the last 15 minutes. In that time there are about four different twists almost completely unrelated to each other, all of which could’ve worked on their own, throwing the other three in the trash. By the end I couldn’t tell what really happened or if the characters actually learned anything. You know what is great about the endings to “The Sting” and “Sixth Sense”? There’s only one of them.

But the ending only ruins the last bit of the film (spectacularly, though) but everything before is still a straight-up slick romance story via the world of grifters, lifters, shifters. There is world here worth exploring and Smith and Robbie suck you in with temptation and wit. In the end that’s all this movie tries to be, hence why they struggled with the ending. But who cares when there are some many beautiful people in such beautiful light, who can also act!

Grade: B+

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