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Three Views: Focus

February 27, 2015

Focus Poster

Focus – A Warner Bros. Release

Release Date: February 27th, 2015
Rated 14A for coarse language and sexual content
Running Time: 105 minutes

Glenn Ficarra (director)
John Requa (director)

Glenn Ficarra (writer)
John Requa (writer)

Nick Urata (music)

Will Smith as Nicky
Margot Robbie as Jess
Adrian Martinez as Farhad
Gerald McRaney as Owens
Rodrigo Santoro as Garriga
BD Wong as Liyuan


Nicky (Will Smith) and Jess (Margot Robbie) in Focus.

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Focus Review By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

What works so well about Focus, a con man story that has just as much fun playing the audience as the characters do one-upping each other, is that we are seduced into this world of deception, but also able to leave the theatre smiling.  Because of this, writer-directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra have pulled off a sort of magic trick, delivering a film that manages to be both gripping and pleasantly diverting, and incredibly clever without being too taxing on the brain.

Nicky (Will Smith) is a veteran con man, who excels at reading body language and slight of hand trickery, and makes his living through dirty betting and selling stolen goods on the black market.  But when he is seduced into showing the ropes to the brilliant aspiring pickpocket Jess (Margot Robbie), who joins his team in New Orleans and becomes both his partner in crime and the bedroom, the effects of their relationship threaten to derail his latest job in Buenos Aires.

There is constant forward momentum to the twisting and turning plot, and the screenplay crackles along with sharply written dialogue, showing us elaborate cons and then using cool editing techniques to take us through the intricately staged setup.  The soundtrack is also pretty great, employing the iconic sounds of “Sympathy for the Devil” to give exhilarating rhythm to one of their biggest plays, in one of the best uses of The Rolling Stones song ever put on film.  This extended sequence is arguably the finest set piece that Focus has to offer, and is alone worth the price of admission.

At a briskly paced and always enjoyable 105 minutes, the film simply coasts by on the ample charms and immense likability of attractive leads Will Smith and Margot Robbie, who have great chemistry together and both shine in genuine movie star turns.  A sleek, sexy and incredibly entertaining ride, Focus is simply a ton of fun.

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Focus Review By Erin Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) is a con man.  He helps run pickpocket rings where they steal watches and jewelry, skim credit cards, and watch the profits roll in.  When he meets Jess (Margot Robbie), she wants in on the game and insists he teach her everything he knows.  After being tested for skills, she is given entrance into Spurgeon’s group and together they get 1.2 million dollars – all in one season’s run of swindles.  But after every season the group disbands so they are not connected in case of legal action, and for three years, Nicky loses touch with Jess, only to run into her again on another con – this time where he is helping race car owner Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro) trick his opponents into thinking that they have an advantage in order to raise bets.

Things get a little bit complicated, with nothing what it seems and no one to trust.  This is a classic story of the double cross, and double crossing again, which makes for a fun ride to come along for.  There also manages to be genuine suspense as the lies get thicker and thicker.  Focus is well filmed and the cast play their roles well, with a script that is of the just smart enough, but you can still turn your brain off variety.  Little touches and comments from earlier in the script play in later on, which keeps us engaged throughout.  Overall, this is a perfect mid-winter film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but still takes itself seriously enough to deliver quality.

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Focus Review By Tony Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The title Focus, as explained by master pickpocket Apollo Robbins who consulted on and appears briefly in the film, refers to the misdirection used in their craft as well as in the best cons. The film is in two parts. The first half mainly set in New Orleans deals with the initiation of Jess (Margot Robbie) into the gang of thieves led by Nicky (Will Smith) as they work the crowds attending the annual super football match. The second half is set in Buenos Aires three years later with Nicky involved in a much more sophisticated con with a wealthy race car owner (Rodrigo Santoro) as the mark and Jess as an unexpected complication.

Written and directed by the team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, Focus is a stylish film whose real locations provide a beautiful setting without detracting from the interactions between flawed but fascinating characters. Though as in many films the plot in hindsight strains credulity, the ride is worth it. The crowd scenes of pickpockets doing their work and the disposal of their spoils are particularly memorable, and there are a couple of nice twists along the way. The cast is excellent and the musical score featuring a number of pop tunes is a good fit to the action. I will never hear the backup singing to “Sympathy for the Devil” the same way again.

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Consensus: With genuinely likeable performances from Will Smith and Margot Robbie, and a sharply written screenplay full of clever twists, Focus is a fun and incredibly entertaining con man story, that moves quickly at 105 minutes. ★★★ (out of 4)

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