Review: “Focus”

Writer/director pair Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s (“Bad Santa,” “Crazy, Stupid Love”) latest romantic heist flick or ‘rom-con,’ Focus, is entertaining manipulation. Nicky (Will Smith) is an experienced con artist who has made a living orchestrating waves of small ‘cons’ in bursts instead of that, ‘once in a lifetime’ score, and he’s doing well.

When Nicky runs into Jess (Margot Robbie), a novice playing in a game out of her league, he’s persuaded to take her under his wing. After the score that cements their relationship we fast-forward to several years later, and of all the cons, in all the world, the girl that got away walks into this one.

It’s great to see Will Smith in a film that he’s playing a role as opposed to having a film built around his brand. He oozes that charm and impressive physique that has informed his earlier cache of big-time action blockbusters, but it’s some undefinable weathering in his eyes that totally sells Nicky’s experience. He’s back to being fun, with the additional x-factor for an ambivalent character that we don’t know everything about.

Margot Robbie is so unbelievably hot that she makes your jaw hurt from clenching you teeth when she’s on screen. You may find yourself actually forcibly exhaling just to recompose yourself. Robbie has a great deal of fun with Jess because she gets to wield her sexuality as a tool for sleight of hand and deception. After watching her face melting hotness in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and how much she had Jordan (Leo DiCaprio) wrapped around her little finger, it’s nice to see her with a little less polish.

Ficarra and Requa have a knack for casting perfectly for supporting roles, no matter the size, if the character’s talking; they’re going to be memorable. Adrian Martinez’s Farhad is just the most perfect kind of pig of a man, hacker and frequent criminal collaborator to Nicky. Every moment he’s on screen he’s offending his counterparts. Asking if Nicky is hitting ‘that’ (Jess) in front of Jess; accusing Jess of being a lesbian because he can smell vagina on her breath; he’s hilarious.

Gerald McRaney plays Owens, and just as he did as the menacing George Hearst in “Deadwood,” he just beats up any form of civility with lashings of insults. He’s got that great booming, authoritative voice kicks you right in your ear balls.

Editor Jan Kovac, sets a tempo that keeps you dialled into the hyper present deception before artistically highlighting the strings. Along with cinematographer Xavier Grobet, who makes the indoors (temp offices, corporate boxes) cold and sterile and the outdoors (race tracks and markets in Buenos Aires, parades in New Orleans) roar with a buzz of colour, people and action.

There’s a wonderful scene where Nicky is auditioning for work with Rodrigo Santoro’s Garriga in an empty pavilion alongside a race track. Their casual job interview is interrupted several times as F1 race cars storm around the track and the deafening roar of their engines initiates a pause in their discussion. It’s a great little choice from the filmmakers to accept the incidental noise around the characters and inadvertently that starts to make you actively listing the hum in the environment.

Look out for an ingenious use of the Rolling Stones ‘Sympathy for the Devil.’ In the fleeting collision between Nicky and Jess you’ll be disarmed with their sensual intimacy. It’s delicately composed and the camera brings you in to their damned ridiculously good-looking embrace.

Ficarra and Requa are having fun unfolding the con and playing with the audiences’ expectations. “Focus,” like “Crazy, Stupid Love” before it, has Nicky (our protagonist) put his guard down for love when he encounters Jess; however they want you to question the authenticity of the actions. And we’ve seen with “Bad Santa” that Ficarra and Requa love small time crime, so it’s awesome to see them graduate into the major leagues with the sophistication and execution of Nicky and his crew that’s not Billy Bob Thornton’s drunken master safe cracker antics.

“Focus” is fun, slick, engaging and sexy. Also Margot Robbie