Nicky (Will Smith) is a first class con man at the top of his game when he encounters Jess (The Wolf of Wall Street’s Margot Robbie), a new player desperate to prove herself a winner. When a successful con comes to a close, the two part ways, only to be brought back together years later in a scheme to steal from a racing entrepreneur (Rodrigo Santoro). As the stakes climb higher, only one question is left unanswered: who’s playing who?
This question by itself is almost a ruse, a false play projected by a film wishing to fool the audience, regardless of the on-screen antics. Smith’s endless charisma does him no harm, and Margot Robbie plays the whole thing sporting the world’s most contagious, manipulative smile, but these performances are effectively the films way of covering up what you think you might see going on in the background. The fact that there is very little actually happening behind the smiles does not make the effort any less appreciated, and if we’re going to be fooled by anyone, Smith and Robbie seem the perfect distraction. In fact, it’s when the film actively pushes supposed depth and grit into our faces that it doesn’t work, and Smith especially is left oddly deadpan.
Perhaps one of the most enjoyable offerings Focus brings to bear is simply how good it looks. The screen bursts with delicious colour, with ‘reality’ filters or oversaturation dispensed with entirely. It fits well with the sparky nature of the surprisingly funny script (which only just gets away with Robbie crooning in Smith’s ear that he’s ‘a great big marshmallow’) and allows the viewer to get engrossed in a high-flying world of double-dealing. Most of the best lines go to Gerald McRaney as a foul-mouthed bodyguard, whilst Rodrigo Santoro as the greasy-haired petrol head is allowed to play it down after majorly camping it up for the 300 movies.
For the most part, the soundtrack feels content to let the viewer wallow in the atmosphere, taking the smart choice of ditching Ocean’s Eleven-style ‘quirky’ bass thrumming while flitting from electronic rhythms to swathes of orchestral glamour. It ensures we’re kept comfortable until a marked point where everything changes, and you’ll kick yourself for not realising sooner just how much you’d been played. The trailers have sold us another ‘one last con’ story, but that’s far from what we get.
Focus is sleek and sexy, an irresistible crime caper that zips along at a rollicking pace, and – like our dynamic duo – has you guessing right up to the end. It is, in the end, all style with very little substance, but as surfaces go it’s polished to a mirror shine and is rather fabulous fun.