HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:84
It’s been a while since I’ve seen Will Smith in a major starring role (well, besides “Men In Black 3”), and no, I’m not counting “After Earth” since his role in that film was nothing but supporting role for Jayden. The allure of watching one of my favorite “fun” actors on screen once more, and playing a much more serious and adult role was intriguing to say the least. Him playing a con man was even more enticing, as I’m a big fan of con artist films. The dance between con artist and mark is just about as exciting as watching a heist film and I was all in. Strangely enough, the film has all the trappings of a good to great film, and even is structured rather nicely, but the only way I can describe it is like a truck’s tires not being able to gain traction. The wheels are spinning and spinning at 100 MPH, but there is just some slight disconnect between it and the ground (in this case the audience) not allowing it to really take off.
Nicky (Will Smith) is at the height of his game. He’s a con artist of incredible skill, employing a whole crew of artists, pulling in over a million dollars a week. Watching a wannabe grafter by the name of Jess (Margot Robbie) try and take him for a ride, and failing miserably, he takes her under his wing and trains her in the art of the con. Jess’s skills are already substantial, but with Nicky’s training she takes it to a new level. Soon the two start to fall for each other and things begin to heat up, only to have the carpet pulled out from under her when Nicky lets her go from the crew without warning. Fast forward a couple of years and Nicky is back grifting once more. This time he’s been hired by a racing team mogul named Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro) to sabotage his competition. Things are going as planned until Nicky runs into Garriga’s girlfriend, who just so happens to be Jess. Seeing Jess hits Nicky squarely in the gut and his well-oiled plan has to be adjusted due to the latent feelings that are coming to the surface.
Putting aside his feelings, or at least trying to, Nicky tries desperately to rectify the rift between himself and Jess, all the while trying to run the con that he was hired for. Things go south in a hurry and soon enough Nicky starts to suspect that something is not on the up and up. The audience is left in the dark for a portion of the film, wondering just who is playing who, while a few key details that are intentionally kept hidden keep them guessing just what’s going to happen next, as Nicky and Jess plot to skip town together after finishing the con.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=45993[/img]The first act of “Focus” is actually quite good. Will Smith has always had this charming charisma to him that made the man the superstar he is today. Watching that charisma still there is exciting and playing a con man is perfect for the aging actor. He fits the role of a stylish and sophisticated gentleman and his physique is still in tip top shape to keep the girls happy with some eye candy (and there are several scenes where you get to admire said physique). The only problem is that the romance between Nicky and Jess just feels, well, cheesy. There is sudden romance, and sudden problems, but not enough tension between the characters to really make it feel real. Nicky mopes over Jess so sappily that you wonder as if this would have been better as a straight romantic drama, as it takes away from the excitement of the con going on. Nicky has some serious demons to battle, including gambling and his stupid decision to cut Jess from his life, which is another point of contention. You never really KNOW why he let her go, but it’s intimated, rather poorly I might add, that he cut her from his life due to thinking that caring and love in the world of a grafter is a weakness. So at the end of the story, that particular plot device feels like its hanging in the wind.
Will Smith actually plays Nicky with lots of charm and gusto, making him a likeable anti-hero who just has some problems to overcome. Sometimes those problems feel more at home in an out and out drama, but Smith is awesome at making a role his own, and elevates the character with his performance. Margo is actually the best character as Jess, a woman who is mildly damaged, but still in love with her former mentor, and Santoro is great as the wildly crazy millionaire who twirls his villain mustache and ham it up as the playboy. “Focus’” main problem stems from the title, it just seems to lack focus, chaining together one piece of the con after enough, glued together with romantic sub plots that serve as a bit of cohesion over a fairly formulaic con movie.
Rated R for language, some sexual content and brief violence
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=46001[/img]While “Focus” stumbles a bit in the story department, it excels with a wonderful 1.78:1 AVC encoded Blu-ray disc. Colors are beautiful, bright and cheerful with a very natural grading. The outdoor scenes are jaw droppingly clear, with amazing facial detail and excellent detailing of clothing and other inanimate objects. Skin tones are very natural and the contrast is wonderful. Indoor scenes show a light blue color grading that isn’t as pronounced as other recent movies, and gives it a rather business like and sterile tone, that fits well with the cons going on. The rest of the time the film is resplendent with shiny digital images that really show case the wonderful cinematography. Black levels are incredibly inky and show no signs of crush or washed out levels. Digital artifacts are kept at bay, although I thought I noticed a moment or two of banding at the beginning of the movie. EXCELLENT work by Warner.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=46009[/img]Sporting a 7.1 DTS-HD MA track, “Focus” is a well nuanced track that really surprised me, especially considering the genre. “Focus” doesn’t have a lot of action type of scenes, except maybe the very final scene of the movie where Nick and Jess get caught by the villains. You’d suspect that the track would be overly front heavy, as there is quite a b it of dialog and not a lot of action, but you’d be surprised at just how lively and aggressive the experience is. The roar of race cars wiz around you during some scenes, while you can hear a rhythmic party scene reverberate amongst the 8 channels, and plenty of little sonic moments where a footstep comes from the rear of the sound stage and a car crash starts the pant legs flapping with some heavy LFE. Dialog is consistent and well defined, showing excellent balanced between the effects and the softer moments of the movie.
• Masters of Misdirection: The Players in a Con
• Will Smith: Gentleman Thief
• Margot Robbie: Stealing Hearts
• Deleted Scenes
• Alternate Opening
“Focus” is a decent attempt by Will Smith, but comes across as just a little too formulaic and forced. It’s a movie at odds with itself, never sure whether it’s an exciting con movie, or a romantic drama, and never fully blending the two genres into a fully functioning unite. It’s still a decently solid film, but suffers from the age old “what could have been” syndrome. The disc sports excellent audio and visual scores, so I don’t see any reason why this one wouldn’t serve as a perfectly good rental.
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Written by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 7.1, French, Spanish, Portuguese DD 5.1
Runtime: 102 Minutes
Own “Focus” on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital HD on June 2nd
Buy Focus On Blu-ray at Amazon
More about Mike