“What’s the secret to the art of deception? Distraction. Keep their focus on one area while you work on another. You look here, I steal here.” So goes the advice of con-man Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith). “Focus” is a heist film through-and-through, but there is no predicting what rabbit hole it will go down next.
At first, the film had the feel of a high-quality, how-to video one would find on YouTube. I was happy to indulge it for a little while, getting lost in the art of pick-pocketing. But if it had continued throughout the whole film, I would have quickly lost interest. Luckily, the film shifted dramatically after the first act and took a much more serious tone.
Now, I will say star Will Smith never quite got away from his comedy roots. I saw a little bit of Agent Jay from Columbia Pictures’ “Men in Black” (1997), but this was not a bad thing. Smith’s comedy kept the film from taking itself too seriously. It knew what it was and worked well within those limitations.
“Focus” always kept me guessing. Not only was it written in such a way as to not be predictable, but the screenwriters had no reservations about outright lying to the audience. Reveal after reveal happened without me becoming worn out. The last fifteen minutes of the film alone was a roller coaster, with layer after layer being peeled back, further revealing the plot.
This deception in the story line mirrored flawlessly with the story itself. All of the characters live and breathe deception. This is exemplified through the professions of Spurgeon and his friends, which included wonderful performances by Adrian Martinez (Farhad) and Brennan Brown (Horst). These three men run a con business of pick pocketing, identity theft and rigged gambling. But the deception goes deeper than their profession. In Spurgeon’s personal life, he is duplicitous with new recruit Jess (Margot Robbie). He keeps things from her the same way the screenwriters keep things from the audience.
I haven’t been subject to a film like “Focus” in a while. The plot was not revolutionary, but how aspects of it were kept from the audience induced a sense of satisfying tension. I think of one scene in particular where there is a high stakes gambling match. The scene lasted about ten minutes, and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. I couldn’t predict what was going to happen, who was going to win. Suspense like that is what makes me want to go to the theater.
Matt Whitney is a senior film production major. This review reflects the view of the writer only.