Focus - Die with the lie - 3 stars

"It's about distraction. It's about focus." Nicky Spurgeon

Walking into the cinema...
Will Smith has been out of the game for awhile. I am not talking about the con game, but the cinematic game. After Earth was an anomaly and the random cameos do not add up to much acting over the past four years. So, Focus had me looking forward to seeing him in a new film. 
Overall rating: 3 stars 
Cinematic value: 3 stars    Family value: 2 stars

     The touch of the nose, the tip of the hat or the simple wink and you know the con is on. These films have been a key part of cinematic history. Some have successfully tricked us into believing the con and some give away their 'tells' too early for us to take them seriously. Focus attempts to distract for the sake of entertainment, but falls in the middle of the pack of con-artistry film. Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith)

at the top of his con-artist trade. Like the artful Dodger of Oliver Twist, he grew up in the the con game with his family as the example. Now he finds himself as a veteran of the grift. He decides to to take on a new apprentice, Jess (Margot Robbie), for a set of scams in New Orleans. The success of these series of cons brings the couple to a crossroads in their relationship. Nicky has to decide to stay true to the con or allow his heart to get involved. 

      Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

(Crazy, Stupid, Love) have been given a stellar cast, but do not rise to the challenge of pulling off the con. The long con is telegraphed too early in the script and diffuses the suspense for the conclusion. Watching Focus was like  watching a shell game, but knowing where the ball was the whole time. The script and the direction merely take us along on an entertaining observation of how an effective con should happen instead of showing giving the audience a unique twist. Will Smith is back wisecracking his way through a film, but there is a maturity to his acting. A maturity that does not help in his performance, because he cannot seem to find his timing. Also, Margot Robbie comes off as a starstruck fan of Smith which causes their relationship to never take off. They are an attractive couple, but they lack chemistry on the screen. Smith was been given great lines and his appeal does remain, but the lines come too infrequently for any comedic value. The support cast makes up for the weaknesses in the lead characters.  (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) is brilliant as Farhad and the band of con artists add the needed spice to keep this tale moving along. Unfortunately, there were no real surprises in the story. Focus moved slowly, which made for an interesting analysis of the life of con-artists, but missed out entertaining the audience. It was not enough to be a convincing con-artist film. 
       A key element that was missing from this film was justice. Their grifting actions seem to go without any challenge or any remorse. With the absence of law officials, there was a lack of cinematic tension, which caused the story to drag. But the pacing was a minor drawback, the true effect of this overlooked detail caused an uncomfortable amorality to the film. Minus any remorse or consideration for their actions as illegal minimises the depth of the storyline. Even though the law officials are usually incompetent comic relief in this style of film, they do provide a moral balance that was missing in Focus. Interestingly, a film about the con game needs some light and shade, but this cinematic journey seemed to remain in the shadows and never brought anything into the light. Even with the celebration of the con-artist's conquests, there still needs to the potential for justice for there to be satisfaction at the end. Without any light to counter the darkness, the directors seemed to be distracted by their own motives and inevitably they lost focus themselves.
Leaving the cinema: I wanted this film to work out for Will Smith, but in the end all I felt was like I had been pick-pocketed.   

Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film? 
1. What is the Bible's view on theft? (Exodus 20:15, Ephesians 4:28)
2. Is there truly justice in this life? (Proverbs 21:15, Isaiah 30:18)
3. Who can we truly trust? (Proverbs 3:5, Romans 8:28)

Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews