Will Smith returns to the big screen playing the leader of a team of con artists in Focus. The big con is set in New Orleans, the host of the Super Bowl. The target of the con is everybody on the street. Margot Robbie plays Jess, the new recruit Nicky met a few month ago. She’s eager to learn the art of the con, but Jess and crew have their natural suspicions.
Focus is a movie looking to find its place in the con-man genre but fails. Con movies are about two things: cons performing the con and the con itself. Focus is cool about showing us scenes of pickpocketing, orchestrated distractions, credit card stealing and the passing of money. But there is no real con in Focus. There’s no bad guy in Focus. If the audience has no one to root against, then it doesn’t have anyone to root.
Instead, the movie is about this potential love story between Nicky and Jess, which is the last thing we want in a con movie. Now, that we’ve reduced the movie to a love story, the stakes are lowered, and the movie’s exciting plot points have no weight.
There’s a moment when Nicky (Will Smith) is about to gamble the team’s fortune away in a single football bet. His character appears to be throwing away everything in a single sports bet. Emotionally, we can’t be what he’s about to do and then the rug is pulled out. I’m sure this is exactly what the filmmakers hoped for in its audience, but for us it’s not enough.
The movie’s main focus is on the relationship between Nicky and Jess (Margot Robbie). The relationship needs to be complicated to the point that you believe cons should never hook up. Instead, the relationship is complicated because it’s between two complicated messed up people.
Ultimately, Focus is not a bad film, nor is it a great film. The scenes are well acted, and the outcomes manage to appear dangerous, but ultimately feel too safe. This safe feeling is not how your audiences should feel at the end of the con. The feeling you need is that you, as an audience, have been fooled, and you’re thinking about the entire movie putting the pieces together. That never happens in Focus.