Focus is the frothiest of Hollywood confections: a melange of costumes, glitzy locales and beautiful people which, if it doesn’t add up to much more than that, at least has a playful and catching sense of fun.
Will Smith stars as master con man and thief Nicky Spurgeon – a role suited to a star of his charisma, and not something we’ve seen him do for a while. He bumps into Jess (Margot Robbie) in the opening scene, and it soon transpires that they share a penchant for Hollywood crime; that is, crime stripped of any moral consideration whatsoever, but it’s ok because they’re beautiful and charming. Nicky takes Jess under his wing, schooling her in the tricks of the thievery trade, until at the mid-way point the film leaps forward three years and throws them back together in new circumstances. Needless to say, Nicky has a big job underway, and Jess proves to be a wild card in its execution.
Smith and Robbie make for a charismatic pairing, working hard to make two pretty unlikeable characters worth rooting for. After watching them loot and pilfer the bags and wallets of countless innocent civilians, it’s to the actors’ credit that by the mid point we’re, sort of, on their side. Incidentally that mid point is worth mentioning: a lovely sequence in which Nicky faces off in an increasingly high stakes gambling confrontation with BD Wong’s giggling Liyuan.
Focus’ structure is slightly odd, but it works because it drives a wedge into a number of factors that will be brought up later. Never mind that the ending is a little lazy – there’s just enough foreshadowing, and it’s well played enough, that we can forgive it.
Elsewhere the film is enjoyable, but resolutely flimsy. Adrian Martinez, as Nicky’s partner Farhad, shows up now and again for comic relief (his stock in trade is sex jokes) and Rodrigo Santoro appears as a wealthy Formula 1 team owner, around whom the final act revolves. The film is dedicated enough to its light tone that it’s willing to make jokes about Australians (amusingly directed at Robbie, who is Australian) and set up intrigue at the same time.
Luckily Smith and Robbie (who will be reunited in next year’s DC Comics mash-up Suicide Squad) make the whole thing more fun that it probably aught to be. It’s nice to see Smith having fun in a role again, and Robbie, who made her name in The Wolf of Wall Street, makes for a go od partner in crime. The film won’t linger long in the memory, but for the duration of its runtime it’s pleasant enough company, primarily thanks to the double act at its centre.