25 February 2015

FILM: Focus

review by Ryan Wigley (Twitter)

Blimey! In my very first piece for Artron Reviews, I've been thrown in the deep end somewhat by being the first to review a film! I was very fortunate enough to attend a preview screening of the upcoming romantic comedy-drama, Focus, last night at my local Cineworld. The new Will Smith flick that is, not the 2001 Meat Loaf film!

Focus begins with us seeing character Nicky Spurgeon, well played by Smith, a seasoned conman dining at a restaurant. It isn’t long before Margot Robbie’s character, Jess Barrett, is introduced and it takes even less time for them to become romantically involved. From here, Nicky quickly introduces Jess to the various tricks and trade of the confidence scam business, and that's where the story begins to unfold.

The weekend of a major football event has arrived and it is time for Nicky, Jess and their group to grab and hustle their way around the airport, casino and stadium where fans would be attending through a variety of different tricks. Directors Glenn Fiacarra and John Requa do a great job of capturing each con effectively and allowing us, as viewers, to see how the characters have gone about obtaining watches, wallets, credit cards and the like. It is especially rewarding given that we see Nicky going to great lengths showing Jess the ropes prior to the weekend of hustling.

Without going into spoiler territory, I will say that there’s a brilliant, lengthy scene during the match involving Smith, Robbie and BD Wong as billionaire Liyuan with an insane amount of money at stake. The end result makes for a tense and intelligent pay-off that you’d expect from any decent hustle and con film.

Leaving the football final a great deal richer, Nicky has decided that Jess is getting far too close to him for comfort, so promptly breaks their relationship off, citing that she had done the job and done it well. This is where my criticisms of the film begin to creep in…

Three years later, we find Nicky reunited with Jess once again in Buenos Aires during a large scale scam involving a billionaire international race car owner. As I noted above, I believe this is where the film starts to fall down as it begins to tail downhill somewhat. Focus goes from being a hustle flick to a full-on romance film without any sort of transition. It is a bizarre change of tone and direction, with the only consistency being the comedic elements and even those are few and far between. On a brighter note, this does introduce us to the  blunt, dry-witted and, despite his loathing of the term, sarcastic Ownes, played impressively by Gerald McRaney. The way McRaney plays Ownes is reminiscent of Mike from smash hit series Breaking Bad, and is a welcome addition to the film.

Focus then undergoes yet another tone change for its final act, becoming rather serious and gritty before transforming unpredictably into a plain old comedy. As with the earlier hustle to romance transition, it comes out of the blue and just makes for an inconsistent film. Jess really comes into her own in this final act, however, and Margot Robbie is brilliant throughout. I will be the first to admit that the trailer and early parts of the film gave off the impression that Robbie just plays Naomi, her character from the excellent The Wolf of Wall Street but fortunately Robbie brings a different take to the role and the script provides Jess with a satisfying closure of the character by staging a con of her own, thus throwing Nicky off his game.

The film as a whole is smart, slick and I cannot fault it for entertainment value. Smith and Robbie are great throughout and are aided by a strong supporting cast. Focus marks the first collaboration between the two leads, but not the last; they are due to appear together in DC’s Suicide Squad sometime in 2017.

Unfortunately, Focus' shifting tone and emphasis means the film doesn't really go anywhere and comes off as a series of scenes without much of a link. The hustle and romance sections of the film are good, and the former is certainly the highlight, but I would have appreciated some consistency, rather than three distinct acts, jumping from one tone to another.

Focus is entertaining enough, but ultimately, and please do forgive the pun, suffers from a lack of focus.

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