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Focus - Film Review

HaydnSpurrell HaydnSpurrell

Focus doesn’t quite demand our attention as intently as the title promises, but it manages to nail down the themes it wanted to at any given time – even if at times that meant the film tries to juggle too many themes in its search to find what it really wanted to be.

New Orleans, as we can title the first half of the film, is fantastic. And it really does feel like this film is actually two separate short ones, the second acting more as a sequel, and much weaker than the first.

The culmination of the first half of screen-time is outstanding in its intensity, reaching the film's pinnacle of collaboration between music, acting and writing. We were given brief snaps of information into Nicky’s (Will Smith) history, and were teased about something below the surface of that self-proclaimed perfect life. What the mid-film climax gives us is both filled with potential that could have taken the film in a whole other direction, and provides a perfect jumping off point. Instead, we all get played, including Margot Robbie’s Jess. Note how we experience the same feelings she experiences throughout the entire scene at the football, yet she is often off to the side, powerless, out of focus.

Had the movie ended there, at the conclusion of that scene, it would have been a great film. As it so happens, there was a second half, and the divide is made so much clearer with the three- year time gap. And as the film unfolds, it feels like there wasn’t a whole lot really connecting it apart from Jess and Nicky’s brief relationship.

Will Smith as Nicky and Margot Robbie as Jess having a drink
Will Smith as Nicky and Margot Robbie as Jess having a drink in Focus

Robbie and Smith’s acting is superb, with a chemistry on screen that makes it easier to buy the rapid pace at which their relationship blossoms. It’s not quite enough though, and where at times this film feels like a con movie with a love angle, it can then change instantly into a love story that happens to be set in the world of cons and heists. It isn't quite able to decide what kind of film it wants to be.

Things seem to escalate inorganically at times. Colour and vibrancy mingle with humour at times, slotting into the playful scenarios we see unfold. But when it takes its dark turns, it’s shocking but not in a way that feels right.

I jotted things down as I watched the film, and it gave me reasons against doing so. There are so many twists here, that it often feels over-the-top. There’s too much going on, too many explanations required, and it isn’t quite the film that demands our entire focus. This isn’t mind-bending psychological thriller. Things hop around rapidly, and at times the twist has an explanation that’s hardly convincing. Luckily, it doesn’t give us long enough to actually think it through before the next twist comes. Which is a good thing, I guess.

I couldn’t help but feel a little let down by the potential the first half leaves us with. Nicky’s gambling problems are alluded to once or twice, and it opens up interesting pathways going forward. Instead, the movie reverts back to its nature, an enjoyable and witty film about criminals who have fallen for one another.

Focus really is elevated by its leads, and they both put in stellar performances as characters who needed a little more fleshing out. At such a short run time of just over an hour and a half, the last forty minutes can drag. Sadly enough, I’d happily sit down and watch the opening not-quite-hour, and then turn it off. It’s a little too ambitious for its material, or rather the direction that material is taken in. And that’s okay, as long as it’s pulled off. Here, it falls short.

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HaydnSpurrell HaydnSpurrell

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