Film Review: Focus

When Focus was released into the cinema I was torn as to whether to see it or not. The trailer suggested it’d be another style over substance film sold on a big name – Will Smith – yet there was something about that superficial glamour that drew me towards it. Even if, as the reviews suggested, it wouldn’t ultimately satisfy. I had another problem though, one which needs a confession before I explain. One of my few guilty pleasures in life is Neighbours. It’s the only “soap” I watch, in fact it’s the only regular TV I watch, but it meant that Will Smith’s co-star Margot Robbie, will to me, always be “Donna”. And I wasn’t sure I could handle watching her for 100 minutes attempting to be someone else.

So I let it go, I watched other films, using the reviews and my casting myopia to justify not seeing it. Yet all the time I was tinged with a slight sadness. When I caught a glimpse of the poster, or another review, I would get the passing pang in my mind that maybe, somehow, it wasn’t as bad as they were saying and that I was actually missing out.

Margot Robbie (Neighbours) - Focus

So, after my slight hiatus from films, and with a headache dictating that I needed a simple story and not the foreign language film I was planning I noticed Focus was available to rent online and decided to bite the bullet and give it a go. Sadly, Focus is every bit as shallow as I expected and worse still, actually attempted to make crime glamorous.

While it would seem to be prudent to start with the cast having already mentioned them, I can’t. I need to start with the story. It’s deceptive and manipulative and nasty. As predicted the plot is nothing more than style over substance, but that’s the problem, the style is woven into a despicable pastime and it suddenly hit me about a third of the way into the film that the high points of the film, the clever choreographed almost dance like sequences of hustling, that are fun to work are actually hiding simple criminal activity. I’m meant to be laughing at and enjoying the sight of stealing and ripping people off and it suddenly left me very uneasy towards the film.

Glenn Ficarra & John Requa - Focus

I think the writers /directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa realise that they are one shaky ground though because suddenly the film completely changes tack. At the exact moment you go “hang on, I shouldn’t be enjoying this, they’re just criminals” it changes to become this very character driven story focusing almost purely on Smith and Robbie. It’s such a seismic shift that it almost feels as though the film has stopped and started again. The problem is it restarts onto a story that doesn’t really serve a purpose or have any depth.

It might have survived if in changing the in tone it learnt from its initial mistakes, if it took the characters and gave them personalities and lives that were interesting and inviting but it doesn’t and you can tell that the cast know this and don’t believe in it. Will Smith just struggles his way through. He looks, as daft as this may sound, too stereotypical Will Smith to be believable. He just looks like a Hollywood A-Lister and a no point did I think of him as his character “Nicky”. For most of the film Smith just looks like he is going through the motions in first gear wondering what he’s got himself into, while Robbie, spends most of the time appearing blinded by the Hollywood headlights staring endlessly at her. Too often she is draped across a scene as almost window dressing. Even worse though, is that we mare meant to buy into this cat and mouse, love and lust power game between them but they have so little chemistry as a couple that the end result just highlights how poor everything around them is and how weak their performances are. Focus just falls apart into a film that feels forced and fake.

Will Smith & Margot Robbie - Focus

Having said all of that though, I must admit it’s hard to really pinpoint any one specific moment that outshines, good or bad, any other. Instead it’s just this constant constant sludge of unbelievable and unrealistic nothingness, that thankfully passes at a decent pace so I never really felt bored. I felt nothing towards the characters, their world or their lives. The tone and context of the film just so misplaced and poorly executed that it was never going to get inside me or make me feel any emotions. I never invested anything in it, happy to just it wash pass me.

As I said, I have memories of it receiving slating reviews during its cinematic release and I can see why. It has nothing in it worth noting and I’d go as far as saying it’s the cinematic equivalent of fish and chip paper. It’s yesterday news. Gone and forgotten before it ever took hold. I can’t forgive the appalling context and tone it applied to it’s opening act and it’s a shame that when it realised it’s mistake and attempted to fix it, it simply moved into a shallow tale nobody believed in, but it served it’s purpose for me, because ultimately I wanted a nothing film I could watch with a headache, and that’s what I got.

5 out of 10 stars (5 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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