Film Review: ‘Focus’ leaves the viewer with very few memories after it ends



Verdict: Competent and fun, “Focus” is an enjoyable experience in under two hours.

Every year, there are movies outside the race for awards that still manage to deliver good stories. Many of these movies, however, overlook aesthetics and try to sustain themselves on acting and story alone. It is a pleasant surprise then to see a movie in this category that treats its visual component so well.

“Focus” is such a movie, where the visuals impress since the opening shots of Will Smith standing at the balcony of a hotel in New Orleans. The film tells the story of two con artists whose paths cross in Argentina three years after the greatest con job of their lives. While Jess (Margot Robbie) has found herself a rich husband, Nicky (Smith) is still in the game for another big play.

The con theme has been part of accomplished Hollywood films such as “Catch Me If You Can” and the recent “American Hustle”, but “Focus” still manages to provide fun.

The acting is above average. Smith plays the role of a guy whose job requires him to be a good actor. He does a great job handling this double acting – the acting of Smith superimposed over the acting of his character – and it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between the two. Smith pulls out a great con job on the audience itself. Another highlight is Rodrigo Santoro, whose acting seems to grow better after each movie. Gone are the overdramatic characteristics that marked some of his roles in Brazilian soap operas early in his career, giving space to a sharper and more realistic acting.

In terms of story, “Focus” excels in the way it reveals the mechanics behind every con job. For instance, the almost unbelievable millionaire bet Nicky manages to win during a Superbowl game is well supported by a flashback sequence explaining its secrets. This flashback sequence is as fun to watch as the trick itself because it does what almost no magician will ever do: expose the mechanics that make everything work.

These well explained tricks make the story simple and easy to follow. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, both writers and directors, never convolute the movie with intricate plans, multiple steps and varied characters. Thus, one of the best aspects of “Focus” is its simplicity. The movie never presents scenes that don’t move the story forward or scenes that rely only in long dialogues.

The problem of such tight scripts is that the ending often becomes disappointing. The ending of “Focus” works, but it is far from one that makes the film memorable. There are no questions to be asked nor theories to be made or characters to be talked about. Its lack of avenues of interpretation makes the whole experience forgettable very quickly.

On a high note, Ficarra and Requa seem to have had the time to perfect the photography with the cinematographer Xavier Grobet. And they did. There are the beautiful overhead shots of both New Orleans and Buenos Aires and the well-lit and composed shots of Nicky and Jess walking at night during a snowfall.

“Focus” is an incredibly fun film to watch because it makes the audience constantly wait for bigger and bigger tricks, just like a good magician would. The script tackles a theme that has been dealt with several times already; however, even though it is well executed, “Focus” fails to stand out among other similar films. It is a good experience while it lasts, but it ends right when the movie does, just like a very quick magic show.