Movie Review: Focus

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A slow-paced caper thriller that keeps you guessing.  It is light, enjoyable, and smart.

What just happened?  You may find yourself asking yourself that question at the end of “Focus”.  It can take a while for your brain to wrap around all the lies and misdirections that the movie throws at you near the end.  That the movie succeeds in walking that fine line of believability while doing so is much to its credit.  The movie is put together like a jigsaw puzzle and throws pieces at you that you’re not even entirely sure are part of the same puzzle that you’re trying to put together.

The biggest problem with “Focus” is that it is mostly setup.  We spend over half the movie just introducing the characters and getting to know the business when it suddenly switches gears and throws the characters around only to incongruously throw them back together three years later.  What saves the movie is that the setup is fun.  There is one scene early in the film when Nicky (Will Smith) is teaching his protegé Jess (Magot Robbie) the art of misdirection by stealthily sliding items off her person.  It’s straight out of a sleight-of-hand magician’s playbook and fun to watch even if it was most likely just play acting instead of the real thing.  The entire setup is like that; showing the various tricks of the trade of the con man.

When the main con does start, it feels kind of empty.  That isn’t to say that it’s not fun, it’s just that the movie spent all this time introducing you to this cast of characters and then it whittles it down to just the two main ones and a bit-player.  The movie slows here some as Nicky and Jess work through their attraction to each other and their trust issues.  The con is interesting if unlikely and fairly straight forward but just when you think Nicky is going to get away with it all, it throws a right hook at you and you’re left wondering where everyone’s allegiance lies.

The light fun makes this movie worth watching and the reveal may blow your mind a little, but there’s not really much there there.  So what we have in “Focus” is a good distraction.  Just be sure to check you still have all of your belongings afterwards.

P.S.  I am mildly amused that Will Smith plays the role of a con man given his penchant for a certain cultish religion that shall remain nameless but nevertheless quite resembles one of the largest cons since Bernie Madoff.