In Chicago, there are grifters and thieves aplenty. I am reminded of one man who I see semi-regularly on the train conning people with his shell game. The shell game is where he has three identical cups and he hides a ball under one of them. He then moves the cups around and waits for you to bet on which cup. To build up his short con, he has plants in the train car who bet and easily “win”, inspiring other people to want to bet on a seemingly easy win. I try to warn the victims by saying they won’t win, but ultimately I’m ignored. Luckily, what happens next is both tragic and entertaining, but also predictable. He let’s the unsuspecting person win at least the first bet. After that he makes the game harder, and switches out the ball from the predicted cup. The poor fool is out $50 or more. Focus is much like being the victim of this con. At first it’s fun and enjoyable, but then the deception leaves you feeling cheated.
Nicky (Will Smith) runs an organized theft ring that specializes in theft, scams and grifting on a scale we can’t even imagine. He doesn’t believe in personal attention, and his mantra is to “die with the lie”. That is, until he comes across a gorgeous fellow con who shows a lot of promise, Jess (Margot Robbie). Her natural talent helps him make a lot of money, but after that, they part ways. Years later, they cross paths while seemingly working on the same mark. With the help of his friend and business partner Farhad (Adrian Martinez), Nicky attempts his greatest con yet, but is Jess working with him or against him?
Will Smith comes off as affable and charming as ever. His partner in crime (so to speak) Margot Robbie plays her part to perfection. There is undeniable chemistry between them, but that is not where the problems lay. Because of the nature of their relationship, and each of them being a master of deception (even against each other), you can’t believe anything that happens between them. That means the entire relationship between them, that is meant to be cultivated throughout from the beginning to the end, has little or no impact because each of them are opportunistic liars ready to use the other person at a moment’s notice for financial gain. The relationship is just as toxic as Fifty Shades of Grey, so you are never truly fooled into believing/trusting what could possibly be their most impressive con: their love story.
For a film all about misdirection, it points undeniably to one ending point. No amount of slight of hand or Ocean’s Eleven style heists could fol you, but boy does this film try to do just that. Focus would like you to believe it is much smarter than it actually is. Misleading you with every action, and offering you twist upon twist. We know how it’s going to end, even if we haven’t put together just how. Fortunately, Focus is much less about the misdirection it tries so hard to establish, but offers more of an entertaining distraction from some of the much worse films out this season. No new ground is covered, no unknown secrets revealed, but instead you get a mildly entertaining trip into the world of professional crime by some attractive, terrible people.
RATING: ★★★★★★(6/10 stars)