Will Smith has been “on the rocks” for a while now. Since 2007, Smith’s headlining films have included the disappointing Hancock, Seven Pounds, and After Earth but, in Warner Bros.’ Focus, Smith stems the tide. He manages to lift a better-than-average performance out of an uneven script to deliver a spellbinding con of epic proportions. Smith stars as Nicky Spurgeon, a grifter with a complicated past who befriends a less experienced con, Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie), falls hard for her, abandons her, and reconnects years later in the midst of a much bigger con. Given all of the layers of misdirection between them, can Nicky and Jess find their ‘focus’ or will they be lost in the depths of the con?
Honestly, the first half of the film is just straight-up fun. If you loved Oceans Eleven or The Italian Job, then Focus is just what you’re looking for. Whether it’s Nicky and Jess showing off their pickpocket skills or tackling an affluent, addictive gambler (B.D. Wong), the flow is entertaining and easy on the eyes. But there has to be a way that the film ratchets up its tension, and that requires more than money.
When Nicky breaks Jess’ heart, the two go their separate ways but they find each other again in Buenos Aires, where race car billionaire Raphael Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro) hires Nicky to break his chief opponent’s (Robert Taylor) team. Complicating things are Garriga’s relationship with Jess, and the jealousy that spawns in Nicky. It’s enough to break the first rule of the con: don’t get emotionally engaged.
For all of its complications, Focus is pretty simple: a lack of trust breaks up the relationship and only trust will heal the wounds that Nicky and Jess carry. Along the way, they’ll find out more about each other, and what causes those wounds to replicate. But it really is a story about finding love and surviving everything that rises up to break that love apart and threaten its longevity.
In my experience, love is a lot like faith: you have to be all in, even as things change over time, and you have to have the necessary amount of trust to make both work. “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:21). Jesus was talking about what it means to be a Christian, but ultimately, Christians are judged by their love. To have a mutually loving relationship, there’s a joint pool of trust that has to exist between two people (romantically or not) that ultimately makes that relationship work.
When Nicky and Jess are broken, it’s over trust. But their love, their feelings for each other and their recognition of a kindred soul, remains. It’s broken, but it’s there. When the two reunite, they begrudgingly build trust again – trust that must be exhibited by acts of vulnerability and sacrifice. It’s the difference between the con and the real thing: no one is really willing to die for the con.
Focus works because Smith and Robbie have chemistry, and we all want to know what happens when the truth comes out.