Are you watching closely? Think back to The Prestige with Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. Now flip the card. Focus is everything The Prestige is not, but not necessarily in a better way; just in a different way. There’s less magic and more thieving. Fewer top hats, more hair spray. But sleight of hand is at the centre of both movies – that is, before The Prestige pulled a Tesla. The main difference is that one sells tickets to the show while Focus hides from the glory to stay out of prison. Abracadabra, you’re under arrest.
The con life is one of two things: stealing watches or fooling a mark. Nicky (Will Smith) does both. Proficiently. He works with an undisclosed number of colleagues to pick the perfect targets, the perfect locations, and plan the most fruitful afternoons on the streets of Mardi Gras or airport arrival gates. The bigger the distraction, the larger the haul. Jess (Margot Robbie) is a pickpocket noob. She meets Nicky at a restaurant where they spend a lovely evening before she tries to steal his wallet. Nicky thinks it’s adorable. Through some stalking and more than a little persuasion, Jess convinces Nicky to take her on as an intern. Things go pretty smoothly while Jess learns the trade; the only hurtle is Nicky’s unfortunate addiction to lying.
How much damage can two shockingly beautiful people do to oblivious crowds? A surprising amount. Nicky and Jess steal everything from necklaces to camera lenses right off their owners. I wish I could say the sleight of hand is all movie magic, but if either of them approached me in the street I would probably forget my name let alone my watch hand. They’re just so inhumanly pretty. Nicky and Jess even make a point of stealing from each other, proving that beauty isn’t immune to beauty, and standing uncomfortably close leaves your back pockets wide open.
But looks are one thing and making these characters likeable is another. Nicky plays both the suave swindler and the charming romantic. It’s easy to forget he’s a compulsive liar and professional loner. Jess, meanwhile, has one beautiful card that she plays very, very well. She has so many opportunities to pull a double-cross and run away with the black duffel bag stuffed with cash (don’t millionaires believe in e-transfers?), but Jess is an honest pickpocket who trusts too easily, even if others can’t share the sentiment. So forget the briefcase full of millions; the pretty smile and the stumbling heals will have to do.
Focus was made for the Will Smith and Margot Robbie team up. They make believable con artists and a believable couple, even if they’re too pretty for real life. Focus is as much about their relationship as it is about pulling jobs. I was surprised with how entertaining the whole drama turned out to be. Who would have thought that fancy cars, expensive clothes, sexy actors, and magic tricks would be so much fun to watch? We love a good thieving movie every now and then, with interesting twists on how they pull it off. Tie that up with some pocket-pulls and purse grabs and Focus becomes a great movie to float along with. Like a gentle current. We’re not asked to think and the plans are explained in full upon completion with no loose ends, which makes Focus a bit spoon-fed. But still, it’s an easy watch.
I would definitely revisit Focus if it were on TV during a lazy afternoon. The relationship between Nicky and Jess is well paced, with all the con jobs spiraling madly around them. Because Focus is split into three sections (before Nicky and Jess are a thing, while they’re a thing, and after they’re a thing) it would be relatively easy to start in the middle and not feel completely lost. Thus, it’s perfect for a Sunday cable showing. Focus is a gentle action with an honest relationship and a little fun law-breaking. It’s an easy 7/10.