Will Smith as Nicky Spurgeon and Margot Robbie as Jess Barrett in a scene from Focus. Picture: PA Photo/Warner Bros/Frank Masi.
Will Smith as Nicky Spurgeon and Margot Robbie as Jess Barrett in a scene from Focus. Picture: PA Photo/Warner Bros/Frank Masi.

A dark comedy starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie

You’d think that when the title of a film is Focus and the tag line on all the posters is Never Lose Focus, that the movie might use the word once or twice.

Interestingly enough, that is not the case. Focus never once uses the word focus and focuses instead on tactics used in street robbery and human behaviour, especially the power of suggestion.

This dark comedy follows Nicky (Will Smith), a veteran con artist, who decides to take a woman named Jess (Margot Robbie) under his wing. The way the pair meet is interesting, as Jess attempts to steal from Nicky using well-worn tricks of the trade in a bedroom con. Jess poses as a woman with a fake husband, who barges into the room at just the correct time to catch Nicky and Jess in the act.

When greeted with a gun to the head, Smith answers with his usual Will Smith charm, ‘You should shoot me’, causing the couple to falter and break the act. When they do, Nicky contradicts them, with a great concept of ‘die with the lie’. As Jess gets to know Nicky, he teaches her the basics, before she becomes part of his crew with a very clever New Orleans induction process. This scene, and the one before it, are excellently pulled off, with the focus firmly on the movie’s two main themes, human behaviour and street robbery.

There is a fun scene in the beginning when Nicky gives Jess a pickpocket’s first lesson. “Human behaviour is predictable,” says Nicky. “If I tap you here, your attention isn’t focused there,” he continues, stealing her ring several times.

Without saying too much about the tactics used on the streets of New Orleans, the scene is fun and artistic, giving an insight into how gang members work together.

When Focus is focused, it is brilliant. However, when the attention is drawn away from the central themes, to regular business deals and casual conversation, the film dips in quality. Sure, all movies have your average scenes in them, but, on occasion, Focus lingers too much on them.

Because of this, certain other sections of the film, such as a scene at the football stadium, are a bit of a reassurance that this is still a good film. This ends up looking at betting and into the human subconscious, along with the power of suggestion. In this case, it’s the number 55 and actor Adrian Martinez, but I’ll say no more.

What is most notable is Nicky’s take on the subconscious, explaining it as ‘he doesn’t see it, but he does.’

There is a three-year jump in the middle of Focus and this contributes to the film’s biggest problem – there is no major end-game, no massive heist to pull off, no massive deal that could get the two of them killed, nothing. Pieces pull themselves together, but slowly. This is where it loses marks, as its brilliance at pulling off theft tactics and insights on the human brain are countered by its fairly average plot.

There are funny moments though, of course, but these are few and far between. A notable moment for me, is at the end. Obviously, I won’t give it away but I can say that it finishes somewhat how it began; with the theft of a watch.

All being said, Focus does not capitalise on its strengths and dwells far too much on its weaknesses. There are no scenes that showcase brilliant acting, but it is entertaining nonetheless. It doesn’t reach the heights of other Will Smith movies, such as IRobot or I Am Legend, but it executes good ideas well if not often enough.

Star rating: 6.5/10