Will Smith and Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) team up for the first time, which is exciting for people who are excited for the DC Comics endeavor Suicide Squad, which also features those two. While Robbie is a star on the rise, Smith has been missing more than hitting lately, so a lot rides on Focus.
The gist. Smith stars as a guy named Nicky, who is a notorious conman who runs a whole operation of thieves. At the beginning of the film, he runs into Jess (Robbie) and takes her under his wing, teaching her sleight of hand, misdirection, and how to play people. As the story continues, they develop some sort of relationship which compromises their ability to effectively con people. We have supporting characters like Adrian Martinez, BD Wong, Gerald McRaney, and Rodrigo Santoro.
Will Smith is always charismatic and he’s just as fantastic here as he’s ever been. He’s redeemed a bit, delivering a solid performance. Robbie also delivers a great performance, though their relationship isn’t as convincing or engaging as it could’ve been.
As a movie, this resembles something like Now You See Me or a watered down Ocean’s Eleven. It’s a heist movie but not in the way that you have car chases or shootouts. It’s a mental heist movie, using trickery. For the first half of this movie, I enjoyed it. There’s scenes before and during a big football game (like the Superbowl but not allowed to use real names of football teams) and they’re fairly entertaining. It’s quick and interesting and Smith’s wit makes it even more enjoyable. Visually, it’s easy to follow.
What doesn’t work?
This movie is in a unique format. The first half of the movie is one distinct tone and then the second half actually takes a substantial leap forward in time and things are completely different. It becomes emotional and less “heisty,” more focused on the dynamics between Smith and Robbie. And this is nowhere near as interesting. The pace drags in the second half.
And then the movie tries to pull a couple Mission Impossible kind of twists but instead of pulling off a mask, it’s how they did some sort of heist. And most of these twist reveals are ridiculous and don’t really work, especially a big one in the climax. There was a big twist which actually had me sit up and realize this movie could’ve been genius but then they essentially took it back and ruined everything. Interesting, yes. Satisfying? No.
The first half of this movie is really entertaining and fun. Then we take a break and come back to a slow-paced, emotion-driven, confusing last half. Some twists are entertaining but some don’t ultimately pay off. This movie could’ve benefited from trimming about 30 minutes, easing up on the twists and reveals, and letting Smith and Robbie be fun and inventive instead of drowning them in angtsy drama.