Friday, March 6, 2015

Focus Review: Con Burns due to Poor Direction

The world of film has seen its fair share of crimes. By that I mean films that deal with the likes of crimes and cons. This concept has been a variety of movie types; particularly in the sub genre of crime movies. In this case though, the idea of con artists comes us in the form of the dark comedy known as Focus. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, Focus brings Will Smith together with Margot Robbit as they showcase the lifestyle of con-men. Though the film had minimal time to advertise itself, Focus was able to showcase an intriguing scenario. Yet did Focus grab my full attention, or was the film a different kind of con job?

Will Smith stars as Nicky Spurgeon: an expert con-man. When the novice grifter Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie) wants to become a professional con artist, Nicky decides to show her the ropes. Their time together leads to a romantic relationship between the two, but it is cut short when Nicky leaves Jess for unknown reasons. Three years past and Nicky is still living the life of a con man. While on a job, Nicky's integrity is shaken when he discovers that Jess is in a relationship with his employer. What transpires is Nicky trying to reconnect with Jess, but this begs the question of who is conning who?

The synopsis above certainly sounds like a compelling story about conning, and that is what I thought the general direction of Focus was going to be prior to my viewing of the film. While the story does provide a good set up to the world of con work, it seems to lack in just about everything else. Though the plot to Focus does deal with cons; it cared more about the romantic story of Nicky and Jess. While this was not a bad direction, the romantic plot to Focus was not the most compelling of love stories. Not only was the love story lacking, but it detracted from other plot elements such as the life of a con man. The story also had a few plot holes to it. The one that comes to mind is the fact that Nicky left Jess in New Orleans, and the movie never explained why. While stories can leave much to the imagination, this plot point was ineffective due to the plot's pacing. The conflict to Focus was so mute, that by the end of the movie, I could not help but think "what was the point of this story"?

Focus followed the two leads to a tee, so if you are hoping for the movie to have a strong supporting cast, you best watch another film. Though the character Farhad, played by Adrian Martinez, could be enjoyable. Focus centered on the characters of Nicky and Jess. While neither character was bad in their own right, there was not much to either Nicky or Jessy that had me invested in their development. This is likely due to the movie's lack of pacing which killed in any progression in Nicky and Jess's character. Thankfully both Will Smith and Margot Robbie's performances were strong enough for them to have chemistry. Though Smith plays his usual character, his performance was still effective. Yet of the two leads, Margot Robbie surprised me by having the better performance as her energy was able to shine through this lackluster character. While the leads were good in their roles, there was just not a lot to Focus' cast and it left weak impression to this factor.

The technical aspects to Focus left little to no impression. The soundtrack  did fit the movie's tone, but it seemed ineffective to the overall presentation. Then there was the film's editing and its direction. While the movie edits were not flawed, they were however questionable; such as playing the dialogue to the transition of a scene. Sure this kind of move is done all the time, but how Focus did it was just distracting and it came off as an amateur edit. This leads me to the direction of the movie as a whole. From watching this film, it was clear that there was a sense of direction that could have worked in favor of Focus' atmosphere. Unfortunately, the film's ideas failed due to the movie's bizarre pacing and it uses of scenes.

On paper, you would think that Focus would be effective due to its concept and its two leads. However this film does everything but be impressive as it lacks in storytelling, character building and proper pacing. If was not for Will Smith and Margot Robbie, this movie would have failed; but unfortunately even that factor does not give this film a pass. In the end, I am afraid that the only con Focus pulled off was that of taking my price of admission.

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