starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro , Gerald McRaney, Adrian Martinez, Robert Taylor and BD Wong
written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) and his partner, Horst, run a 30-crew team of con men, pickpockets, identity thieves, data robbers, blackmailers, money launderers, and fraudster. Unlike some films where the clever hires are going for the one, big score that will make them multi-millionaires for the rest of their lives, Nicky`s team does a volume business. They prey on marks in big crowds - crowded restaurants, crowded streets. In Focus they are in New Orleans for the Superbowl. There`s as much action there as in the Las Vegs Strip. Nicky’s operation is down to a smooth-running criminal business.
Jess (Margot Robbie) is a con artist, too, but in a lesser league than Nicky. After Jess tries to scam Nicky, Nicky takes her into his crew or his big New Orleans Superbowl job. The Superbowl job was great. I thought it was the whole story, but the film was only half over.
Three years later we’re in Buenos Aires for another fantastically sophisticated con. It’s even better than the New Orleans episode.
BD Wong as uncontrollable gambler Liyuan Tsu in New Orleans, and Rodrigo Santoro (enigmatic Karl, from Love Actually, 2003, directed by Richard Curtis) as risk-taking Formula 1 race car owner Garriga make fantastic marks. The movie gets a little tiring with all of its trust issues - no one can trust anyone else - but it’s worth it to watch how Liyuan and Garriga are taken in and robbed.
Adrian Martinez is great. He’s a disgusting-looking guy, but he is a very successful comic foil here.
The script is pregnant with popular psycho-babble about human interactions - how to gain trust, how to trick people, what certain gestures and body language indicate, how to use eroticism and fake emotion, all that stuff. It’s crap. “Gain someone’s trust and you can take whatever you want,” like that. To perform his craft successfully Nicky has to be aware of the full range of human personality and behavior and use a full arsenal of devices and wedges to take what he wants. He has to convincingly fake an emotional investment in others. He has to be a sociopathic monster. But in genuinely falling in love with Jess Nicky breaks the cardinal rule that Robert De Niro taught us in Heat (1995, directed by Michael Mann): never form any relationship that you are not willing to walk away form in five minutes if the heat is on.