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Thursday, February 01, 2018

Focus

I love con man movies. I guess it's because they always keep you guessing--the actors are playing actors of a sort, and their methods are usually ingenious. However, there is one rule in con man movies--the mark must be a bad guy. That rule is violated in Focus, a 2015 film, directed by the undistinguished team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Will Smith, as the main con artist, is seen in the first third of the movie stealing from random people. He runs a team of pickpockets, like a modern Fagin, and some of the results are identify theft. He is just a very greedy person.

But a woman, Margot Robbie, wants to join his team. They work New Orleans during Super Bowl week, and rake in over a million dollars. But Smith leaves her high and dry, despite having entered a romantic relationship with her.

The film then spends its last half in Buenos Aires. Smith has been hired by a race-car team owner to fleece a rival. Robbie shows up as the girlfriend of that owner, complicating things, because Smith wants to resume their affair. None of this may be as it seems.

None of the characters in this film are morally worthy, so if you're rooting for Smith it may be because he's Will Smith, and as an actor with that much charisma, this works. Robbie is also very appealing. But the race-car owner, though not a pleasant guy (do race-car owners really act like Mafia dons?) has done nothing to deserve being conned. There is a great twist at the end, and maybe Smith and Robbie have learned their lessons, but maybe not.

The film is very lushly shot and goes along nicely paced, but it needs a rewrite. There is a section of the film where Smith keeps betting with a gambler played by B.D. Wong that is based on a huge coincidence, and although Smith explains it I don't buy it.

Focus is pretty to look at, and shows Smith doing some of his best work. It's a shame he doesn't know good projects when he sees them. Although this film was a hit, make $159 million dollars a year, although I hardly remember it being in theaters.

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