As Focus begins, one thing becomes apparent right away: Will Smith is finally back. After years of waiting for him to return as the lead of a film, Smith returns in a con film that’s just as much romance as it is about the thrill of the heist. Margot Robbie co-stars in the clever and fun film directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Most know the duo as the team behind Crazy, Stupid, Love, or the writers behind Bad Santa, two films that defied genre conventions, being much more than what they appeared. The duo bring much of the same here, blending heists with love, creating a film that is as much romantic as it is fun. It’s also a film that thinks it might more clever than it is, and more charismatic as it is, which is ultimately the film’s biggest flaw.
Nicky Spurgeon (Smith) is an exceptional con man that knows the rules of the game. When he takes a protege named Jess (Robbie) under his wing to teach her the art, he gets more than he bargained for. As his feelings for Jess start to overtake him, Nicky realizes he can’t drag her down into his life. After their big con in New Orleans, Nicky leaves her behind, thinking that would be the end of it all. Fate has other ideas though, and three years later, the pair cross paths once more in a way they never would never expect.
The best thing about Focus may honestly be its biggest problem, and that comes down to its two leads. Will Smith and Margot Robbie are so wonderful and so charismatic in the film that you like them immediately. The two are absolutely dynamite together, and they have incredible chemistry together. The problem is, the film begins to rely on them instead of focusing on its script and story. Instead of tightening the story up, there’s a lot of the movie that they leave to just letting the two play off each other, treating the actors like filler to get to the next part of the story. It works because Smith and Robbie really are that great together, but it’s frustrating that they’re used as a crutch at times instead of given a script that’s tightened, and well, focused.
Thankfully, even in the scenes where they spend all their time talking, it flows well. The less said about the story the better, because it’s one where not knowing what’s going on and what the stakes are will make for a more fulfilling viewing. One thing that was noticeable though is how the film feels more like a vintage 1980’s thriller than many of the more recent ones. This is a film that doesn’t rely heavily on the special effects or set pieces, but one that relies on the con itself, and how everything comes together. It’s nice to watch something that is so heavily steeped in character and its own rules instead of making every part feel as if it’s just set up for a big action piece down the line. There’s none of that here, which is a great counter balance to many of the bigger films that come out throughout the year.
The characters themselves are fun, because both Will Smith and Margot Robbie are both fun. Smith is as charismatic, charming, and fun to watch as always, playing his flawed character Nicky much as you’d expect. It’s great to see him in something R Rated again, letting him play a character more flawed with less restraints. Most people will recognize Margot Robbie from Wolf of Wall Street, and while many may worry that she was one note and a one hit wonder, she proves here that she’s not at all. Not only is Robbie completely wonderful as Jess, she holds her own with Smith at every turn. It’s great to see an actress who is as fun and freewheeling as Smith, and can keep up with him, which many may not expect. It’s that playful relationship that makes the film such a blast to watch, and really they sell it. This film is carried on their shoulders more than anyone else’s, and that’s why no other characters are focused on the way they are.
The only other real problem is that the film’s third act becomes so heavy on dialogue, really making the film start to stall towards the end. It’s not enough to really hurt the film, but it’s a noticeable decline after how fast paced the film had been up until that point. There was a real sense of quickness, that almost played alongside the con, that made the film so freewheeling and fast paced. So when it stops to talk, it kind of brings the movie to a halt, and you’re left scratching your head hoping for it to move quicker. But once the talking stops and the third act picks back up, the film is back on the ground running to a fun finish that many will not see coming.
Focus is a surprisingly fun, romantic, and breezy heist film with a lot of charisma. While the film may rely on its stars at times, it doesn’t overall hinder the film because both Smith and Robbie are so great in it. This is the best Smith has been in some time, and Robbie proves she has what it takes to be a fantastic and wonderful actress and isn’t a one hit wonder. This is great counter programming to the bigger blockbusters we get throughout the year, and it’s great to be so surprised by a film that you just have a blast with it the whole time. Welcome back, Mr. Smith, it’s great to see you doing what you do best again.