It’s all fun and games until someone loses a fortune, as this latest addition to the con-artist movie genre proves. While everyone loves a good crime drama when we’re rooting for the baddies, transgressions which involve fraud rather than murder certainly make for the most palatable of vicarious pleasures.
Here we’re playing with the big kids. Nicky Spurgeon (a hero as improbably named as Will Smith is improbably cast) has been conning for decades, when he meets a beautiful ingénue who begs to be shown the ropes. But as the scores get bigger, one man’s fatal flaw risks bringing down this house of cards.
Will Smith is altogether too slick and too smug, but damn! the guy has some charisma. The fire in his natural ego is easily sparked by relative newcomer Margot Robbie, an Australian actress who has bounced off the well-sprung trampoline that is Neighbours via Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street to hit her Hollywood big time (she is soon to play Jane in the new Tarzan), and who more than holds her own against Smith. Robbie exudes old-fashioned starlet appeal, with the beauty of Rita Hayworth and the fizz of Rosalind Russell. Here’s hoping she eschews any dolly-bird roles sent her way from now on, and gets the chance to really spread her wings.
Long-time collaborators Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love) both wrote and directed this flick, but while their photographic panache is indisputable, the plot sometimes loses its way. Or perhaps this is just the pitfall of peopling your movie with so many liars and cheaters, the audience can’t relax for as long as they’re unsure who to trust.
But no matter – despite some silliness and a whole lot of suspension of disbelief, Focus is briskly-paced and works hard to be a glamorous caper movie, complete with very fast cars and a gripping scene of ill-advised gambling. If you keep your concentration up, you may even find it rather educational.