********* 5 out of 10 *********
Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Actors: Will Smith, Margot Robbie
How do you bounce back after your first taste of failure in a decade? That is the question which would have worried Will Smith after the debacle of 2013’s After Earth. The easiest way is to take up something which you are comfortable and familiar with. A slick, charming, smooth-talking, romantic con-man would have been a role tailor-made for Will Smith ten or even five years back. So with the belief that he will find his footing again, Will Smith would have taken this role in Focus. In the period prior to After Earth, we too would have believed that Will Smith would leave a memorable impression, that the film would entertain, and in the end, it would be money well spent. But just a few years can change things so much. Will Smith is still trying to climb out of the hole that he has dug for himself, while Focus is just a shadow of the kind of movie we had come to expect from this great actor.
Focus is about a seasoned con-man, Nicky (Will Smith) who sees through a con of the inexperienced Jess (Margot Robbie) and ends up giving her a few tips to survive in this world. Jess realises how good Nicky is at this game, and persuades him to take her in as an intern. The con work of Nicky and his team is going great, and at the same time, love blossoms between Jess and Nicky. But after a big con, things are about to take an unexpected twist, which is only the beginning of another big con about to be attempted.
I broadly see movies as a summation of three key aspects – screenplay, direction and acting. On all these three counts, Focus never jumps above the average mark, barring Margot Robbie’s performance. Writers and directors of this movie, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, aren’t necessarily known for being experts in creating sharp mysterious plots, the edge-of-the-seat thrillers. Their past works include movies like Cats & Dogs, Bad Santa and I Love You Philip Morris, so I am sure you understand what I am getting at. Focus clearly lacks the pen of a more refined writer, someone who could have handled the delicacies in the plot in an expert manner when it came to scripting the screenplay. The movie could also have done with more ‘focused’ directors, someone who were sure as to the direction in which they wanted to take the movie. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, it appears, chose to switch between making it as a stylish tale like Ocean’s Eleven, and a romcom like Hitch, eventually making neither, but a diluted version of the original thought they would have had in mind. Focus also has one of the worst music scores I have heard, not on a standalone basis but rather in terms of its integration with the scenes in which the songs were played. Moments which could have been intense and gripping were mellowed down by a soft musical playing in the background, much to my annoyance.
The real gem of the movie was Margot Robbie, who in such an early part of her career is already being the pillar on which the movie stands. She rose to prominence with The Wolf of Wall Street, and with Focus she gives another glimpse of the hard-working talented actress that she is. She plays the character of Jess with a lot of perkiness and fun, which diminishes the boredom that the movie otherwise induces. She brought out different emotions of the character with equal ease, be it admiration, love, despair, or jealousy, and comfortably changed her expressions and body posture as the scene demanded. This surely is the beginning of a long successful career! Opposite Margot Robbie was a veteran, Will Smith, someone who has had a long successful career, and should very much be the mentor to Margot Robbie as Nicky was to Jess. But alas, it seems that Will Smith could take a tip or two from his junior. He seems to be still stuck in that aircraft of After Earth, a tired fellow, numbed down by life, passive in his expressions, a far cry from the Bad Boys days. Even ten years back, Will Smith was making cheesy romantic lines feel like dreamy heavenly stuff in Hitch, and making us appreciate how good he really was. But in Focus, he lacks the timing, he lacks the suave, he lacks conviction. There are moments though, moments where the old Will Smith can be seen again, moments that brighten up the heart but then disappear. I wonder when we will see him at his best again. The supporting cast of Focus does a decent enough job, nothing worth remembering, nothing worth complaining.
Focus is at best an average film, neither a great con movie nor a great romantic movie. The chemistry between Will Smith and Margot Robbie falls short, nothing like the remarkable pairing of Will Smith and Eva Mendez in Hitch. But the fault lies with Will Smith in Focus, as Margot Robbie is the only bright spot in an otherwise drab affair.