I just got conned. But this time, instead of suspicious Nigerian royalty wanting to cheat me out of my life savings, the prince was fresh, and I must admit that I really enjoyed his work. After a few years of back-to-back duds, I wasn’t expecting much at all from Will Smith’s latest starring vehicle: Focus. But I’m happy to report that no-longer-as-Fresh Prince gets back to winning ways in this flashy and entertaining Rom-Con drama that sees him lighting up the screen with current Hollywood “it” girl Margot Robbie.
Smith plays Nicky “Mellow” Spurgeon, a legendary life-long conman who leads a ring of some of the best in the biz, while Robbie is Jess Barnett, an ambitious young cutpurse who wants to learn the game and move up in the world. After Jess is caught out by Nicky in a clumsy unsuccessful con involving his seduction (and his wallet), he notes that she has some potential and takes the bubbly blonde under his wing. And soon also his bedsheets. But as the cons get more dangerous and the couple becomes more involved, you – as well as the pair themselves – start to wonder if their feelings for each other are genuine, or if this all just one elaborate ruse to facilitate some big score. And if their feelings are real, how will it affect their sometimes literal cutthroat work, where there’s no place for being soft?
Co-writing and co-directing duo Glen Ficarra and John Requa (they of I Love You Phillip Morris and Crazy, Stupid, Love fame) spin out an enjoyably twisty romp, that appreciably ticks all the correct boxes for the genre: Charismatic cast, catchy and jazzy score, blink-and-you-miss-it grifting sleight of hand, beautifully shot glitzy and glamorous international locations and serpentine third act plot reveals that may not hold up 100% under some concentrated scrutiny but dazzle nevertheless with their dramatic flourishes.
While the film’s romantic angle may seem almost unbelievably brisk and slightly undercooked, Ficarra and Requa keep things bouncing along with enough energy to divert your attention from the script’s minor foibles. And just like with a real life con, most of this distraction is accomplished through the film’s effortlessly charismatic duo just oozing highly contagious charm in every direction.
Smith is on top leading man form here, once again showing that he can be more than just a quippy jokester (though he does have a couple of good barbs here) with a buttery smooth performance. “I can convince anybody of anything,” he opines at one stage, and as he talks his way into and out of one high-stakes gamble after another, you firmly believe it. But he’s not just all silvery tongue though, as Smith brings a subtle emotional gravitas to the role that really sells it when his world nearly falls apart later on.
Standing as his opposite equal, Robbie proves that her breakout performance in Wolf of Wall Street wasn’t a fluke, and that she can do much more than just look good naked next to Leonardo DiCaprio as she’s able to turn on the heavy human drama at the flick of a switch. Most memorably though, her Jess is so full of effervescent, bordering on madcap vitality that she just blazes up every scene she’s in (and also immediately had me appreciating her pitch perfect casting as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad). With her infectious laugh and emotive eyes, the Aussie actress just boasts an easygoing charm that’s as natural as her flawless American accent.
And surrounding the strong central core of Smith and Robbie is a particularly solid support cast boasting D.B. Wong (as a heavily animated compulsive gambler in the movie’s most tension-filled scene), Rodrigo Santoro, Gerald McRaney and Adrian Martinez as Nicky’s rotund and risqué right-hand man Farhad, whose bawdy humour is the main culprit for the film’s R rating.
Despite Focus‘ occasional script troubles, Ficarra and Requa do still have a winning gamble here (there’s one particular sequence that is so good and done with such wry Soderbergh-esque flair that I’m really peeved that the payoff is spoiled in the trailers). Is this Will Smith’s all-triumphant return to the top of the Hollywood food chain? Not quite, but it’s certainly a huge step in that direction, and with a…er… focus on more projects like these, he will certainly get there quickly. And that’s no con.
Last Updated: March 11, 2015