Falling in love with a con man never leads to a happy ending. But Focus scams us into thinking it’s got one, anyhow.
That scam is not difficult. Audiences are primed to believe that Will Smith and Margot Robbie belong together, regardless of external obstacles or the nature of their characters. It’s a narrative we just keep going back to in our love stories: Someone lies or at least doesn’t quite tell the truth, it causes confusion and misery, and we still get our “happily ever after.” A classic love story would at least mandate untangling the lies between them before the couple could wind up together, but in Focus, lying is actually the tie that binds.
Focus is a fun, if shallow, movie in an entertaining tradition of light comedies about thieves (many of them modern updates, from The Italian Job to Oceans 11), and though it doesn’t add anything to its genre, it has a likable cast, a sneaky script, and some creative cinematography. We can wish it made a statement about what telling lies does to the liar and the people he fools—but this is a movie, and a movie can twist the narrative and still reach a tidy, feel-good conclusion.
No one does feel-good as effortlessly as Will Smith. Forty-six years old and buff and charming as ever, Smith plays Nicky Spurgeon, a pedigreed scam artist—his father and grandfather are well-known in the professional diversion thief community. Nicky meets Jess Barrett (rising star Margot Robbie) as she’s in the middle of her own scam. These two lie to each other from the start: it’s how they make their living, but also who they are as people.
Since Jess is a beautiful woman, her strongest asset—as we see over and over—is ...1