Editor’s Notes: Focus was released on Blu-ray and DVD yesterday, June 2nd.
Focus will remind viewers of caper films such as Charade, Gambit and Topkapi. It is a stylishly made picture that combines cleverly edited sequences with a romantic subplot for some sexual tension. Nicky (Will Smith) is a charming, third-generation hustler adept at pickpocketing, petty theft, and separating tourists from their money in carefully orchestrated ways. He lives well, appreciates the finer things in life, and works with a team of precision accomplices.
It is a stylishly made picture that combines cleverly edited sequences with a romantic subplot for some sexual tension.
When he foils an attempt by a beautiful woman, Jess (Margot Robbie), to extort money from him, she asks him to mentor her in the finer points of swindling. A brief “audition” in which they repeatedly pickpocket each other, often of the same object, convinces Nicky that Jess, while a bit rough around the edges, is basically adept at her craft. He takes her under his wing, introduces her to his team, uses her in several successful hustles, and sees the team’s earnings increase dramatically because of her involvement.
Jess and Nicky become more than on-the-job colleagues, so Jess is crushed when, after a successful job, Nicky abruptly pays her off and sends her away. Three years later, their paths cross again in Buenos Aires, where Nicky finds Jess involved with billionaire race car owner Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro).
Will Smith has not had the best luck in his screen career of late, so it’s a pleasure to see him in a well-scripted role in a stylish production. The part of Nicky draws upon Smith’s natural charm and winning smile, and his performance is thoughtful and measured. As Nicky, his manner is smooth, natural, and easy, exactly the qualities a con man relies on to work his crooked schemes believably. This is not the cocky Will Smith of Independence Day or the Men in Black pictures. In Focus, he is content to share the spotlight with Ms. Robbie, a beautiful actress with plenty of talent.
Seen on screen previously as Leonardo Di Caprio’s wife in The Wolf of Wall Street, Ms. Robbie is equal to Smith in every way — screen presence, performance, and star power — and more than holds her own in her scenes with him. In fact, the best moments of the movie are their scenes together, which generate palpable charisma. Jess is a substantial showcase role for an actress whom we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the future.
It is almost a retro film in that it concentrates on solid plotting, crisp, clever dialogue, and engaging characters projected by talented actors.
Gerald McRaney co-stars as Owens, a henchman/enforcer who works for Garriga. Owens is a no-nonsense, unsentimental realist who doesn’t trust Nicky or Jess and is quite vocal about his thoughts, often in the most profane language possible. He’s not your typical comic sidekick. Though he projects considerable menace, his deadly serious, stone-faced pronouncements are very funny. McRaney is terrific and brings to life a very colorful character.
Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, Focus illustrates in detail how a pickpocket team choreographs its scams, placing participants in key positions and having them pass pickpocketed items, stolen credit cards, or pieces of costly jewelry from one to another with lightning speed and remarkable dexterity. Filmed from advantageous angles and edited so that the viewer catches every nuance, these scenes will have you feeling for your own wallet or pocketbook.
Rated R for language and a few brief steamy scenes, Focus doesn’t have a spandex-clad superhero, explosions, or a goofy central character. It is almost a retro film in that it concentrates on solid plotting, crisp, clever dialogue, and engaging characters projected by talented actors.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include deleted scenes, alternate opening, profiles on Will Smith and Margot Robbie, and the featurette “Masters of Misdirection: The Players in a Con.” Also included is a digital HD copy.