The only real con in this was I was expecting to see Will Smith’s comeback performance. I guess I’ll have to wait.
Nikki (Will Smith) an experienced con-man and grifter takes Jess (Margot Robbie) into one of his operations to learn the tricks of the trade. As she learns to steal with the best of them they develop a relationship which ends with Nikki breaking Jess’ heart. Years later they meet up again as Smith tries to run an elaborate con involving Jess’ new boyfriend which forces him to choose between focusing on a huge score or winning her back.
I think we all love a good con movie. Probably because there are so few good con movies. The Sting. The Ocean’s remakes. Um…uh….well my point is we probably love a good con film because there are so few good con movies. So very few. And Focus did nothing to add to the list of good con films.
Part of the problem is the film is more a series of disjointed vignettes. You have Nikki and Jess’s first meeting. You have Nikki showing Jess the ropes in New Orleans at the Super Bowl. You have Nikki dealing with a gambling problem. And this takes up a good first third of the film…and then and only then do you get to the supposed main plot line where Nikki is hired to run a con for a millionaire looking to sabotage his competition and who happens to have a relationship with Jess. The fact that this first part takes up so much time you never have a chance to get settled into what is supposedly the real con of the movie…and since their personal relationship takes up so much time throughout you never have a chance to get into the con itself…but while their relationship takes up time, it isn’t given enough time to actually be meaningful. And then there was a wasted three minutes of watching a goon shopping in a convenience store—no real purpose to that. It gets worse when you add in the sloppy yet pretentious cuts between scenes that are trying for art and just come off as a waste of time. Some of the scenes are actually quite clever and leave you intrigued but they’re interspersed with plodding exposition or attempts at wit that just fall flat. The film had two directors and if I cared to watch it again (which I don’t) I could probably tell you which scenes belonged to which director as their styles were so contradictory the film just becomes a mess.
Now, I have to say that this is one of the best performance I’ve seen from Smith in a long time —let’s be honest with the exception of an under-appreciated cameo in Winter’s Tale and the noble attempt in Hancock it’s been a decade since he’s done anything that was worth watching—and while this film isn’t worth watching, it’s nice to know that Smith remembers how to actually act. And the actors clearly had chemistry (which I think bodes well for when they both appear in Suicide Squad next year) but the plot kept getting in the way of this.
And in among the fact that I could never get into either the romance or the con…the film just has some completely unnecessary vulgar and crass conversations. I have no problem with the crass humor for plot or character development, but it really didn’t do anything for either of those…and I can only think that the directors thought it was good comedy (it wasn’t). This only further took me out of caring for anything that was going on on the screen.
But the primary problem was the time the story spent on its parts. To have a meaningful romance you have to spend time on the relationship, and never enough time was spent on any sincere part of the relationship (there was a lot of time spent on them trying to con each other, but after each bout, you never had enough build up again to make me care if they stayed together or not before the next attempt to play each other). And a good con should make you think one thing is happening when at the last moment you find out something else is going on (and this does briefly occur duing the middle of the film) but what should have been the primary con of the film, you never get enough information to even suspect the true nature of what is going on and the resolution is just rushed through as if it isn’t all that important.