In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Focus tries to do a whole lot, it succeeds at very little of it, yet it’s entertaining anyway.”
“I can convince anyone of anything. I once convinced a man that an empty warehouse was the federal reserve, so I’m good.”
Con man movies are all about conning the audience watching it as much as they are about conning the characters in it. Movies like Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men and David Mamet’s Heist work so well and deliver such an impact because they make you feel like you’re in it, watching from the outside, seeing angles that the characters can’t. Then they pull the rug out from under you, and you realise that you were being suckered the whole time too. Good con movies do it so well, when you watch them a second time, you can’t believe how many little hints of the truth you missed that first time around. Focus tries to do a whole lot of that, it succeeds at very little of it, yet it’s entertaining anyway.
Sitting alone in a swanky hotel bar, Nicky (Will Smith) is quickly seduced by the gorgeous Jess (Margot Robbie). Getting down to rumpy pumpy business, they’re interrupted by her jealous, gun wielding husband. Only, it’s not her jealous husband, it’s her partner in crime, scamming and robbing people like Nicky after they’re lured to her room. Only, Nicky’s not being scammed, he’s actually a world class con artist himself, who recognised this low rent scheme immediately and went along with it out of pure curiosity before easily thwarting their plans.
Impressed and enamoured, Jess convinces Nicky to take her on as an apprentice. Soon, she’s part of his large team of grifters and pick pockets, stealing they’re way though Mardi Gras in New Orleans to the tune of $1.7million. Sticking to the ethos taught to him by his con man father, Nicky has obvious growing feelings for Jess, but they part ways anyway… Until three years later when the ultimate con rears its head, giving Nicky the chance to finally make that one last, big score.
As I said in my intro, Focus has all the building blocks of a great heist or con movie. The only problem is, all of those building blocks are way too big, awkward and obvious. I’m sure the movie thinks things like recurring mentions of Nicky’s father and a certain scam involving partners shooting each other are subtle hints that viewers will write off in the moment as little pieces of entertaining colour. But what they come off as, is the movie screaming, “HEY, NICKEY’S DAD IS DEFINITELY GOING TO FIGURE INTO THE FINAL TWIST AND/OR CON OF THIS MOVIE. SO DON’T FORGET HE EXISTS OR HOW SHITTY OF A FATHER HE’S BEEN IN THE PAST. ALSO, THAT CON WHERE ONE PARTNER SHOOTS ANOTHER, REMEMBER THAT. HINT, HINT (MASSIVE WINK).”
But also as I said in the intro, I still found Focus irresistibly entertaining anyway. If only in a disposable, fluff kind of way. Turns out, if you have great looking, charming charisma machines like Will Smith and Margot Robbie romancing each other in a series of exotic locations around the world while wearing designer clothes and while perpetrating increasingly ridiculous and intricate plans, schemes, capers, cons and shenanigans, it’s gonna be an easy watch. You’ll forget all about it before the end credits even start to roll, but the 100 odd minutes you spend watching it will be perfectly pleasant.