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Feature


Nicky (Will Smith) is a seasoned master of misdirection who becomes involved with novice con artist Jess (Margot Robbie). As he's teaching her the tricks of the trade, she gets too close for comfort, and he breaks it off. Three years later, Jess - now an accomplished femme fatale - shows up in Buenos Aires during the high-stakes race-car circuit, throwing Nicky off his game in the middle of his latest dangerous scheme. (From the Warner Bros synopsis)

It's hard to make a good con movie. There have been enough of them now that viewers are trained not to trust anything they see and they always look out for clues. That hasn't stopped the directing team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who have made a second con artist movie following the under-seen I Love You Phillip Morris. And like that film, they seem to have a grasp on the fact that a good con movie needs good leads. They've found that with Will Smith and Margot Robbie. The two make their on-screen chemistry look easy. Smith is kind of perfect for a con man role. He always plays the good guy and has a natural warmth so it's easy to buy scenes where victims fall for his schemes. I can't recall the last Will Smith movie I enjoyed. I've always found his charm undeniable, but I haven't liked a project of his in what feels like a decade. Now I can tell people "well Focus was pretty good" when the subject comes up.

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The actual con artist shenanigans in the story are arguably pretty weak. There are nice little surprises here and there, like a montage of many highly organized thieves stealing from a New Orleans crowd. I shook my head at a gambling scene that featured the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil", but the story actually had a neat reason for it and I had to eat my foot. During the story's more dramatic twists a skeptical viewer won't buy any of it. When anybody can be in on the con I find myself not caring about what is happening in the present because I can't trust any of it, so I'm just waiting for the reveal to see if it checks out. In this case, a reveal near the end makes some of the earlier scenes make very little sense. Trust is also a theme the movie shoots for, with many scenes about Jess not being able to trust Nicky because of his past, but instead of finding any dramatic meat the writers use these scenes to play more guessing games with the audience.

Though a lot of the writing is mostly fine, the script occasionally detours into some really immature humor. I shouldn't be shocked that the team behind Bad Santa put some genitalia jokes into their script, but it feels very out of place and desperate here. I want to say if you meet Focus half way and go along with it, there is some decent fun to be had. I can't imagine anybody being blown away by the twist and turns of the story, but it is still delivered in a slick package and features two leads at the top of their game. It's good to see Will Smith taking on a non-blockbuster role and I hope he continues down this line of work instead of taking on the usual vanity projects. I've only seen Margot Robbie this and The Wolf of Wall Street so far, and in both she is a scene stealer.

 Focus

Video


Focus has a very strong 1080p transfer on a dual-layered Blu-ray disc. It was shot on the Arri Alexa. I'm no expert on camera systems, but the Arri Alexa has become the digital camera that has convinced me a world without 35mm wouldn't be so awful. It retains some of the personality of film with all the perks and convenience of shooting digitally. That said, Focus is the most digital-looking film I've seen shot on it. Detail is very strong and colors look nice, but digital noise is very much present and visible if you're looking for it. That said, the transfer is really nice. I never noticed any egregious artefacts aside from some very minor blockiness in backgrounds/unfocused portions of the picture. Colors look great. The movie doesn't have one look. There are outdoor scenes full of colorful crowds, dark interiors and lavish parties with colorful lights. In the darker scenes black levels look true and accurate. It's never visually dull, and the transfer holds up well through all of it.

Audio


The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track included on this Blu-ray release had me turning my head here and there. It creates a very convincing noise environment wherever the story goes. The commotion on a New Orleans street, the ambient noise of a fancy party or the passing of Forumla 1 cars outside of a business meeting are all impressive examples. And despite all the surrounding noise, voices and dialogue are crystal clear in the front channels during those scenes. There are quieter, more intimate scenes as well that are equally as strong if not as flashy. The soundtrack also fits into the mix lightly and is fairly varied. Highlights include a cleverly used track from The Rolling Stones and It's a Beautiful Day's "White Bird", and they sound great.

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Extras


Masters of Misdirection: The Players in a Con (HD, 10:25) is a breezy featurette that looks at the culture of con artists that we see a lot of in the first part of the film. Margot Robbie talks about learning how to pickpocket for her scenes, and we see some interview footage and tutorials from a consultant. If you can't guess, Will Smith: Gentleman Thief (HD, 05:52) is about Will Smith and his involvement. He talks about what drew him to the project and the directors talk about using his charm to build the Nicky character. Margot Robbie: Stealing Hearts (HD, 04:08) is the Margot Robbie version of previous extra. It mostly reuses some stuff from earlier special features.

Next up are four Deleted Scenes (08:02). There are no way to view these individually - just one video, and they are not in chronological order. They are mostly alternate versions of existing scenes in the film. Last of all is an Alternate Opening (HD, 02:44) which I found kind of fun, but it would make some early scenes in the final cut less effective so I can see why it wasn't used.

Overall


Focus is the kind of flick that is easy to sit around and poke holes in, but I admittedly enjoyed my time with it. It's brisk, fun, and what doesn't work about the story is mostly compensated for by Will Smith and Margot Robbie's magnetic lead performances. Extras on this release are mostly just fluff, but it packs a nice Blu-ray image and very impressive audio.

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* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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