Thursday, March 12, 2015

Focus

 
The Con-Man and the Lady
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Gerald McRaney, B.D. Wong, Rodrigo Santoro, Adrian Martinez, Steve Kim

Review by James Colt Harrison

Few actors today are as charming as Will Smith. He’s not only charismatic, but he’s good looking and catnip for the ladies. He has that winning combination of appeal for both men and women. Does all that come to the fore in his latest comedy caper film Focus for Warner Bros? It sure does, and that is one of the saving graces for the film.

Who could match Smith in the charm and charisma department? Newcomer Margot Robbie does and she sears the edges of the film with her man-eating personality and sense of humor to rival Smith’s well-known grasp of comedy. Ms. Robbie plays Jess, an amateur con-artist who is taken under the master con-artist’s wing, Nicky Spurgeon (Smith). Although Robbie is a native Australian, she captures an American accent with ease.

Smith’s Nicky is an accomplished con-artist/thief who almost meets his match in Jess. She’s an amateur lifter of watches and wallets off unsuspecting tourists in New Orleans. Nicky looks a tad bored about all this, but he takes pity on Jess and decides to show her the ropes about big-time heists. Jess is all sparkly and enthusiastic and even funny in some scenes. Smith’s Nicky has seen it all and is getting dangerously close to being world-weary about the whole thing. In this sense, Robbie has become the better actor over Smith and steals the picture right out from under the former box-office champ.

Supporting actors pop up who are, themselves, scene stealers. Asian actor B.D. Wong, always good whether on TV or on film, plays Liyuan, a shady character with a big bruiser of bodyguard (Steve Kim) who keeps him from getting rubbed out.

Comic foil Adrian Martinez plays Farhad, a bumbling character who adds laughs to the light-hearted film. We wish he had been used more.

The ultimate eye-magnet is veteran old-timer Gerald McRaney, who gained fame and popularity on the TV show Simon and Simon. Audiences cannot look away from him. Playing the nastiest of thugs, he chews the scenery, spits it out, and leaves Smith with egg on his face. McRaney’s character of Owens plays a very significant part in Nicky’s life, which isn’t revealed at first. There won’t be any spoilers here, but McRaney’s thug proves the theory that what you see may not necessarily be what really is in front of you. He’s terrific in his role and could be sighted for honors later in the year during the next awards season.

Getting back to Ricky and Jess finds them not only partners in crime, but partners in various luxurious hotel bedrooms as well. With two beautiful people like this, what else can we expect? Unfortunately, Nicky shows boredom in the relationship and the two go in separate directions crime-wise. But fear not---their separation only lasts two or three years and they are back to planning new capers. Robbie plays her Jess character like a young girl merely out for an adventure. Nicky is more serious about the quality of his heists.

They move from New Orleans to Buenos Aires where the stakes are higher in the race car circuit. Latin star Rodgrigo Santoro plays an ace driver who is into nefarious professions that make additional money. We don’t really get to know his character in depth, so we can’t empathize with his plight in the crime game.

The scenes in Buenos Aries are colorful as many events take place in the arts colony which contains brilliantly hued houses overlooking the promenades. Cinematographer Xavier Grobet gingerly captures the bustling movement of colors in this dazzllng district. Other technical kudos go to costume designer Dayna Pink for creating attire for Robbie that is barely there, Production Designer Beth Mickel for bringing together two different design concepts in New Orleans and Buenos Aires, and finally to Nick Urata for creating custom music for the caper.

Focus is as light-hearted as a crime drama/comedy can be, so it’s a pleaser. It’s not the greatest movie ever made, but it’s not the worst, either. As the clich√© goes, it has its moments.

Robbie, age 24, is definitely a find and should have a long career ahead of her. She’s a stunner, that’s for sure. Born in Queensland, Australia July 2, 1990, she grew up on a farm. By the time she was 17 she knew she didn’t want to milk cows for the rest of her life. She moved to Melbourne, the capital of Australia’s artsy set. She attended Somerset College and graduated in 2007.

She began acting professionally and appeared in some commercials and a couple of small films. She was cast in the popular television series Neighbors as the character Donna Freedman. After starring in the show for three years she announced she wanted to try her luck in Hollywood. Before she left Australia she nominated for Most Popular Actress at the Logie Awards.

Upon arrival in Hollywood she auditioned on the Sony Pictures lot for the television series Pan Am, in which she played a stewardess (as called those days), which today would be a Flight Attendant. The series was critically acclaimed but was canceled after one season.

Iconic director Martin Scorcese became interested in her to play the part of Naomi Lapaglia in his giant production The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013 with Leonardo DiCaprio. She made a magnificent impression and was nominated for several awards, including Best Supporting Actress by the Georgia Film Critics Association and the Empire Award for Best Newcomer.

Now the actress has several films lined up for release in the next couple of years. She’ll be starring in The Mountain Between with Charlie Hunnam, the DC Comics thriller Suicide Squad, and as Jane in the new Tarzan for 2016.

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