Nicky, Will Smith is a longtime con who meets small time con artist, Jess, Margot Robbie when she is trying to scam him. He sees through the job and then hires her to work with him on a sting during the super bowl game. Nicky though explains that he is not in it for the one big heist that will let you live on some Caribbean Island and sip margaritas but for the smaller jobs that over time make more money and are less obvious.
Nicky has a team of others who work with him, and he and Jess develop a bond and romantic relationship as well. When he is done with a job, he gives everyone their cut and then goes on his way. It all seems very neat and clean, and it is.
“Focus” looks stylish and is beautifully and smartly laid out. As with other films in this genre, no one is who he seems, and throughout there are always twists and turns which turn out in the end, to fall in line with what the plan was intended to be.
There are fun performances such as Farhad, Adrian Martinez, and the nuanced and always fun to watch, Owens, Gerald McRaney. Yet, the leads, Will Smith and Margot Robbie have little chemistry together. She has an ethereal and fun quality which meshes nicely with Martinez and McRaney; however, during her scenes with Smith, it feels more staged than anything else. Further there is a significant lack of character development for Jess. We know little, and therefore what we get is mostly dressing.
Thankfully, the same cannot be said for Nicky, who does talk about his past, yet, do we ever really know that what he says is the truth? After all his pat line is “always die with the lie”; this credo lends itself entirely to how a con works, you find your dupe, trick them, get the goods and get out before they are onto the gig. You end up with (whatever it is) and the person, who was taken, is left either knowing nothing, or finding out later he or she has been conned.
The con though is the entire premise of this film, but in the end it is the small con. This fits in with the fact that it is a relatively small cast, and the film itself is on a smaller scale than say “The Sting” or “Ocean’s Eleven”. There are some surprises and one at the end which while believable seems a little too easy. We want to be taken into this story, and yet feel at the same time that these are real people, however, it is not always easy to do so.
As a piece on how you can run a con that appears small, but in fact is big, (in the long run) this is a good one. Yet, what is suffers from is a lack authentic moments. They are few and far between. What really makes this film more than just another film on grifting is Margot Robbie. She lights the screen in each frame she is in, not just because she is pretty, she is, but by her winning laugh, and her ability to connect with others (especially Adrian Martinez). We needed more scenes which depicted not only the game they were running, but who they were to one another. This would have elevated them from merely being superficial, to the realm of nuanced characters (the real cons) that infect all of our lives.