When a thief loves a woman (Focus movie review)

Focus”, a typical robbery comedy directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, uses two narrative schemes – of story about a relation between a master and a student and of a tale about femme fatale. Nicky (Will Smith) is an experienced burglar and a leader of an organised, very effective thieves group, who teaches a young girl Jess (Margot Robbie) his profession and reveals to her tricks and secrets of a robbery art. Their relation quickly turns into a romance that the man unexpectedly decides to end. The main action of the movie is focused on the story of the protagonists’ re-meeting after years that becomes a passionate, intense dual.

The title of Ficarra’s and Requa’s movie suggests that the audience should stay focused because the directors have prepared a story that is composed of unexpected twists, misdirection and false leads that together create an intellectual feast. The problem is that the directors do surprise the audience, but their story looks like an effect of bonding random motifs, and not like a subtle, frapping puzzle. Unfortunately, the word “focus” turns out to be only a simple reference to the specifics of the thieves’ profession that demands constant awareness, because the entire story is pretty obvious and offers a possibility of comfortable watching that allows the audience to enjoy following developments that are closed in a frame of a romantic fairy tale with a criminal background. Interesting twists in the criminal thread cannot change it, because it’s the relation between Nicky and Jess that remains on the first plan.

It looks like the director wanted to create a new “Ocean’s Eleven”, but their movie is only a pure imitation that gets dangerously close to the edge of ridiculous and unintentional parody. The creators of “Focus” are trying really hard to seduce the audience with stunning, dazzlingly rich shots of American metropolises and of Buenos Aires, but luxurious interiors and urban landscapes that seem to be cut from colourful magazines and ads of expensive cars and fashionable clothes leave viewers totally indifferent, because they lacking both – originality and atmosphere and become unpleasantly unmemorable. Stiff dialogues and paper characters also don’t help in saving this production from a rather miserable fate and the taste of defeat. In the closing sequence of “Focus” we see barely alive Will Smith whose shirt is covered with blood. This scene could be an allegorical comment to the state of the directors that have failed on so many levels.

Nevertheless, there are some good moments in this bad movie that can be pretty enjoyable. For example spectacular scenes in which Jess in doing her first serious thief’s performances in a company of her new co-workers from Nicky’s organisation is not only funny, but also dramaturgically efficient and simply impressing. Margot Robbie’s creation generally is pretty awesome and her performance is something that makes this comedy worth watching. What’s interesting, the characters from second and third planes also bring to the main plot some funny moments and can make the audience forget for a little while the general cheesiness of the love story that the movie focuses on.

The biggest problem in “Focus” is the directors’ fixation on the romantic thread that, especially in the second part, overshadows the criminal action which in the first scenes of the movie seems to be not only promising, but also well composed. Something that was supposed to be a robbery comedy and started as a competition for the classics of its genre turns into a schematic love tale that only wears a costume of a funny production about brilliant thieves.

Another problem lies in composition and dramaturgy of the entire criminal thread. It cannot be said that the action is predictable, because it’s far from obviousness, but at the same it’s also very far from probability. The directors base their twists on a rule of absurd, which doesn’t do any good to “Focus”. Unpredictable story that is made of almost Dadaistic changes doesn’t work in a movie about geniuses among robbers and scammers. Ficarra’s and Requa’s film – in the final analysis – is an example of a cute and charming, but undemanding title that has more in common with a slow, average romance than with and outstanding criminal spectacle and gives the audience more peaceful pleasure than adrenaline.