Nothing in this film is at all what it seems. But is that a bad thing?
Will Smith’s latest movie, Focus had all the makings for cinematic goodness: action, mind games, twists, a hot blonde and the promise of a glimpse of Will Smith’s abs, but the focus of Focus was the unconventional love story between talented con-artist Nicky (Smith) and up and coming heistess Jess (Robbie), giving us more Hitch than action. The plot was intricate, but lacking a lot of explanation, so if you don’t like having the answers (in my Kanye voice), then you’ll be thoroughly satisfied with the flick. Also, if you like the idea of Will Smith chasing around a White woman half his age through Buenos Aires, then by all means, get your tickets now!
Jess comes into Nicky’s life by way of wristwatch thievery and Nicky noticed her quick hands, so naturally she landed a job with him at this underground bootlegging, con-artisty warehousey operation where they all make money by working together to distract the world, steal debit and credit cards from their victims and replace them without anyone being aware. Remember, there is no “big con” according to Nicky, only smaller ones where everyone gets a hefty cut without too much attention alerting authorities.
The scenes where the film’s writer and director team, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy Stupid Love) explained the intricate bait-and-switch con moments were brilliant. We got to see the the inner workings of Smith’s thievery and the intelligent ways his con operation carried out their plans and that was where the excitement began and ended.
One major scene that had me scoot to the front of my plush movie seat was Nicky and Jess’ first job together. Nicky took Jess to a football game in New Orleans’ Superdome and they began making friendly bets between one another. An ear hustling Chinese businessman (played by BD Wong) joined in and we nervously watched Nicky (who was pre-warned not to gamble–was this a con?) bet and lose on ridiculous bets with the rich, but crazy Chinese man. The scene fully captures what Focus wants us to focus on–conning is never-ending and there’s no way to know if what you’re experiencing is actually reality. The con at the football game is enough to make you like the entire movie, showing you exactly how detailed and disciplined the plan had to be to carry it out with success.
Jess and Nicky were already an item (read: sleeping together between cons) by the time the football game con was carried out, but Nicky literally leaves Jess in a pool of her own tears right after. Why? He’s a con artist and they ain’t got time for love! It’s a distraction. But then Jess waltzes right back into Nicky’s life, three years later, looking like Jessica Rabbit, slinking down the stairs of the exact same hotel Nicky was staying in, halfway around the world in Buenos Aires. While you’re trying to figure out how this coincidence happened, we learn that Jess is dating the man who hired Nicky to help with a big race car engineering con.
Two con-artists falling in love in sexy locations like New Orleans and Buenos Aires makes for a lot of hurt feelings, lies, duct taped mouths and blood. Yes, there was blood, but honestly, the bloody scene was the only real action in the entire hour and 45 minutes. If you’re going because you want to see something be blown up, Focus isn’t the movie for you. If you want to see a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde navigate through a web of lies, money and more lies, Focus is the movie for you. There’s so much opulence in the film, you think that at some point Margot Robbie’s (Jess) husband from Wolf Of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) will show up to sniff lines off a diamond-encrusted glass table. Which would have been amazing! (Spoiler alert: Leo does not make a cameo).
But that’s ok, we don’t need Leo when Will Smith was absolutely charismatic without being corny. Oh and did we mention that his abs show up more than once? His character devoted way too much of his attention to getting Jess to fall in love with him. So much attention that it landed a bullet in Nicky’s chest. Oh wait–there was action in the movie! Or am I conning you?
It was wonderful to watch Will Smith evolve. His movie career started with Six Degrees Of Separation, where he played a high-society scammer. That was 21 years ago and now in Focus, he’s back with a debonair flair that’s hard to ignore.
Maybe it’s the dialogue filled with lies between the two lovers, who also happen to be the bad ass protagonists of the movie (you do root for them both the entire time), but there’s a level of disappointment in the final scene of the movie where you’re asking, how is Nicky still alive? Wait, that’s his father? They couldn’t keep all that money? Is the hospital going to call the cops? Can these two build a relationship on the foundation of lies they’ve created? Maybe none of these questions matter in the end, but what’s certain is that two hour long movie is tightly squeezed into several “dialogue-to-carry-the-movie-along” moments where explanations and back stories never see the light of day. But at least we see a shirtless Will Smith.
Who knows what we should believe? Maybe we were all conned? Either way, Nicky and Jess limp off into the sunset in the end…kinda and we’re like, that’s it?
Focus is out in theaters this Friday, Feb. 27. Are you going to see it?