When you pair an all-time beloved actor with a hot rising star in Hollywood, a decent amount of people will be interested. Warner Bros. banked on that with Focus in 2015. The movie stars Will Smith and Margot Robbie. They play con artists who stole each other’s hearts while stealing from other people.
The film revolves around Nicky (Will Smith), a highly skilled con-man. He lives a solitary life. Nicky learned “relationships cause distractions and distractions can get you killed in this line of work.”
It isn’t until he meets Jess (Margot Robbie) that he finds himself ready to break that rule. Jess, a low-level pick pocket, attempts to con Nicky when they first meet. Once that fails, Nicky tries to recruit Jess to join his own network.
When Nicky realizes he’s falling in love with Jess, he cuts it abruptly. He does this by leaving her at the airport. They don’t meet again for another three years. While working a job in Argentina, Nicky and Jess cross paths. Again, he finds himself willing to break that one cardinal rule so he can get Jess back.
Only this time, Nicky and Jess find out first-hand that love in this game really does come with consequences.
Lukewarm Reception for ‘focus’
When Focus hit theaters, critics hit the film with mixed reviews. Currently, the film has a 56% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 56 on Metacritic. The general consensus about the movie is “too many twists and turns, but stays afloat by the charm of its two stars.” There was also mixed receptions from audiences– 53% on Rotten Tomatoes and a “B” Cinemascore.
Nonetheless, the film managed to be profitable at the box office, grossing $159 million against a production budget of $50 million. This speaks volumes to the appeal of Will Smith and Margot Robbie. However, I’d argue that the film deserved to make more money than it did and absolutely deserved better reception.
Will Smith is at his most charming in the role of Nicky. He’s charismatic and confident in this role. Not to mention, the guy oozes sex appeal in the cleanest suits. He easily talks his way into, around, and out of anything.
Enter Margot Robbie. When Nicky and Jess first meet in Focus, you can feel the chemistry between Robbie and Smith. It’s rare when two actors have that kind of magnetism toward each other. In Focus, they each hold their own.
Both characters go through dramatic character arcs throughout the course of the film. We see Nicky go from being scared of getting close to anyone to being willing to give it all up for the one person.
Jess starts off as an inexperienced, vulnerable woman who falls for Nicky. Following being abandoned with no explanation, she’s forced to take care of herself while shutting herself off emotionally. These character arcs allow both actors to really flex their range. Both Smith and Robbie shine a light of significant personal changes during the film.
You do not see a Typical Heist Film
Aside from the skill of the actors or their ability to engage each other, Focus had a great story itself. It was well told and beautifully crafted. There is no arguing how Smith and Robbie put the film on their shoulders, but acting shows the way this story was written and draws the viewer in.
This story isn’t like other films in this genre. This isn’t Oceans 11 (or 12 & 13). Those movies were all about the con. They feature some character development, but those films’ primary focus was on the con artists executing their master plan.
Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa chose to develop the two main characters and their relationship. Nicky and Jess make this film so much more than just another entry into the heist genre. For a typical heist movie, it’s what they do. In this heist movie, it’s about who they are that matters.
There’s a ton of exposition into Nicky’s life before he met Jess, specifically about his upbringing. As Nicky states in the film: “He didn’t adopt this lifestyle; he was born into it and raised in it by his father.”
This is all he has ever known, which is on display throughout the film.
Throughout Focus, we understand Nicky’s decisions, which is key to how this movie was told. First, why he abandoned Jess after falling in love with her. Then, why he ceased work as a con artist after leaving Jess, because falling in love with her caused him to question if the con is worth more than love.
As we go through the story, we find Nicky in a dark place that led to him making amends with his father and making the decision to win Jess back. It was about a life’s quest, not a con. Nicky was driven to reacquire a love that has evaded him throughout his life. The growth we see in Nicky makes him a character worth our interest. And that relationship with Jess is one we want to succeed.
While the movie was profitable and was considered a success financially, there’s something disappointing to me. Focus wasn’t appreciated the way it should have been. The acting, directing, and writing was much better than it shows in print.
Smith and Robbie turn in fantastic performances that are appealing, interesting, and powerful. Their palpable chemistry grabs you from the very first minute they’re on screen together. The story injects this genre with a central narrative: How to give everything up for a love most people search for their entire lives. That alone says this was much more than a typical heist film, if only the critics and audiences paid more attention.