I find con/caper stories incredibly entertaining; the more plausible and twisty the better. Movies such as The Sting, House of Games and even Dirty Rotten Scoundrels are all fresh, interesting takes on the conman film. On television, Britain’s Hustle is vastly more engaging and compelling than the noble American effort Leverage. Focus holds its own among these various endeavors.
Will Smith, in his best film in years, plays Nicky, nicknamed “Mellow” by his grifter father for being too soft. Beautiful Australian Margot Robbie, with her perfect American accent, plays Jesse, a novice who becomes a con expert over the course of the film. Nicky meets Jesse in a bar and instantly recognizes her as being on the grift. Outsmarting her simple con, the chemistry between them is instant and powerful. Nicky gives Jesse a quick education, recruits her for a con they’re working, then abandons her as not to get personally attached.
Years later, the two meet again during another big international con. Jesse is now an established and professional grifter. Nicky finds he still has intense feelings for her, but neither can totally trust the other.
Focus features fine acting and some twisty writing. During an intense scene at the Super Bowl (cleverly filmed in part during the real Super Bowl), the tension is so high you’re not sure if any particular character is going to win, lose, or be killed instantly. Viewers aren’t even sure if what happens is a con or a situation gone hopelessly out of control.
There is a great comedic turn by Adrian Martinez as a fellow grifter, and it was nice to see Gerald McRaney growl through his role as security for the mark in the big international con. I heard one critic say the last five minutes ruined the film for him; I thoroughly enjoyed them. In the end, Focus holds its own as a caper movie and one I would heartily recommend. Although waiting for home video/streaming to see it would be just fine.
Rating: ***½ stars out of 5