A couple years ago, mega-star Will Smith’s clout almost entirely collapsed when his abysmal father-son day turned flop After Earth made next to nothing at the box office. His ego, which had been built entirely on his ability to always be able to open a movie was crushed, and for a while, he all but completely disappeared. However, he seems to have learned something from his time off, opting to take the Matthew Mcconaughey route and only take roles that really interest him and not worry about the box office so much. With that, we have Focus, the first film of Big Willie 2.0.
Nicky (Will Smith) has been at the center of a successful group of con artists and thieves for quite some time, mostly running small time heists so they don’t leave too much of a trail. He finds himself intrigued when he comes across Jess (Margot Robbie), a feisty and bubbly crook who has major potential, but is a little rough around the edges. After some convincing, he decides to take her under his wing and train her in the art of the con. The film takes place around two major focal cons in their relationship, one that occurs when they’re hot and heavy, and another a few years after they find themselves having drifted apart.
From the moment this movie starts, it exudes cool, and that is in large part thanks to Smith, who has not been this much fun to watch in almost a decade. Finally not taking himself so damn seriously, he gets back to the wise cracks and charm that made us love him in the first place, while still brining the pathos to Nicky when it’s needed. It’s more below the surface than some of his other more dramatic roles, but there is a clear and deep sadness in this man that lies below his very together exterior, and that often comes out in very destructive ways. It helps that he’s complimented by Margot Robbie, coming off of her white hot breakout role in The Wolf Of Wall Street, who is also wonderful here. Jess may be innocent at first, but she’s far from stupid, and watching her learn by playing with her fantastic chemistry with Smith is a joy to watch.
This isn’t a film that just coasts off of the chemistry of it’s leads though, as writer/director duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa craft a deliciously twisty story for our characters to navigate. This isn’t their first rodeo with con men (they also made the wonderful I Love You Phillip Morris), and it shows, as the proceedings manage to be both complex and easy to follow, because these characters are so well crafted that we hang on their every punchy and vulgar word. Fittingly enough, the movie is perfectly focussed, keeping the proceedings on Smith and Robbie while not veering off into too many other subliminal characters and their schemes, as many other con movies have done before.
Ficarra and Requa also have a lot of fun with the ascetics here, shooting everything with a distinct look that makes the film look like it was pulled out of the 70s or 80s. It’s a slightly muggier, darker looking film than we’re used to seeing these days, and that reflects our characters wonderfully. Beyond that, they craft some wonderfully imaginative sequences here, some involving cons, and one in particular involving a car crash that would not feel out of place in a Scorsese movie.
Focus is exactly the film Will Smith needed to make his way back into the limelight, providing him with his best role and film in years. It’s a stylish, arousing, and above all, fun time at the movies bolstered by a sharp script by two filmmakers who just seem to be getting better and better, and an electric dynamic between Smith and Robbie. After this, I’m even more excited about the prospect of these two playing Deadshot and Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, and I get the impression many others will be too.