Wednesday, 4 March 2015
FILM REVIEW: FOCUS
It's around this time of year, in the post-awards season lull and those seemingly quiet months before US summer blockbusters flood the local multiplexes, that we often see a 'con' movie arrive: movies that trade in deception, twists and double dealings and all manner of misdirections.
In 2009 it was Tony Gilroy's Duplicity, with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, and in 2013, Danny Boyle's Trance, with an amnesiac James McAvoy, which gave our grey matter a workout -- or a light jog, depending on your powers of deduction.
This year it's Focus, directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, and which more closely resembles Duplicity, with its attractive leads, sexy chemistry and ongoing tit-for-tat one-upmanship. Those attractive leads are Will Smith and Margot Robbie, who play Nicky and Jess, respectively; teacher and student in the art of the con.
We're not sure why master conman Nicky would want to take the novice Jessy under his wing (other than the obvious aesthetic reasons) but she soon blossoms under his tutelage and inevitable affections. But just as soon as the two seem to be falling in love -- the greatest con of all? -- he abandons her, heartbroken, in New Orleans following a well-executed Super Bowl sting involving a Chinese high roller (an energizing cameo by B.D. Wong).
Three years later and the pair's paths cross again, this time in Buenos Aires where Nicky is employed by a Formula-1 team owner, Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro), to dupe his competitors into thinking they've scored the formula for his super-fast fuel. Or some such. The details aren't as important as the interplay between Nicky and Jess; the latter realising that he may have made a mistake in letting Jess get away. But just what is she doing in Buenos Aires, and in the company of Garriga?
There's definite chemistry between Smith and Robbie, and it's the Australian, fresh off her Hollywood breakout role in Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, who shines here; making the most of what threatens to be a merely decorative role being by turns funny, smart and, yes, sexy.
Intentional or not, it's these romantic distractions which make Focus an enjoyable diversion as you wait for the inevitable other shoe to drop. It's a con movie, after all, so you suspect that at any or all times Smith's Nicky, and the directors (who also wrote the screenplay) may just be pulling the wool over our eyes.
That said, they don't always have faith in the audience's intelligence: explaining each con in elaborate detail afterwards to make sure we're paying attention, or simply paying attention to how clever they are.
No matter. Focus is a shiny, shimmery diversion which occupies your mind for enough of the time that it takes to lift 100-odd minutes of your life. You won't win big but you'll have at least been entertained by Focus, and at this time of year at the movies that's an impressive trick in itself.