Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Review: Focus

World of Blackout Film Review

Focus Poster

Cert: 15 / 105 mins / Dir. John Requa & Glenn Ficarra / Trailer
WoB Rating: 3/7

Because apparently the film-rights to the titles Escort and Fiesta were taken already. Boom! A very Brit-centric joke to start off with there, and indeed, one for the dads. It's also, I should point out, far more risqué than anything in Focus, whose BBFC classification-card optimistically boasts "sex, sex references" in a way which seems more of a false promise than a warning. Not that that's why I was at the cinema, of course. If it's cheap smut I wanted (and I didn't), I could have popped into one of the seven separate showings of 50 Shades Of Grey that day (and I didn't). The only reason I mention this whole thing is that Focus seems to be a dab hand at promising (or at least inferring) one thing, then delivering something else. Ironically, that's about as close as it comes to being a con-movie...

The good news is that Focus is far more like an episode of the TV show Hustle than it is American Hustle. The bad news is that it's like an episode of Hustle that's been rebooted for ITV2. Unlike other entries in the heist-genre, the film doesn't actually give us anyone likeable to root for. Which you'd think would be sort of the point? There's no Robin Hood ethos at work here, or righteous-revenge-by-financial-ruin. It's just Will Smith as the head of a 30-strong team of professional thieves who have no compunction in stealing watches, wallets or dignity from members of the public at any opportunity. But it's alright, you see, because his dad and his grandad were grifters and pickpockets before him! Y'know, in the same way that the children of murderers naturally gravitate to stabbing people for a living. It wouldn't be so bad if Will Smith at his smoothest wasn't so utterly charmless, but hey ho. Even his co-star Margot Robbie cranks the insincerity up one notch higher than required to sell her character short.

But rather than let a good film be ruined by the man who had a bloody good crack at destroying sci-fi, directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have handily also written the script and given him a hand! Now, I know it's de rigueur for this sort of movie, but never before has The Scriptwriter's Boomerang*1 been thrown so gracelessly than in the first act of Focus. Because when Will Smith patiently and pointedly explains anything which isn't directly connected to objects in the same room, you think "yep, we'll be seeing that fucker again before the closing credits…". I'm not normally one to sit second-guessing the twists and turns in a film, but with Smith's presence slowly subtracting IQ points from the screenplay, it's sort of unavoidable. While the contents of the twists themselves may be arbitrary, their approach is telegraphed by the cinematic equivalent of a man walking in front of the film with a red flag, "lest the sheer velocity of this unexpected revelation be too much for the frail human condition…"

It's not that it's completely brainless, but a film like this should be way smarter. An average story (at best), which patronises its audience (at best) and is let down by pantomime performances (at best).

Focus is to American Hustle, what Now You See Me is to The Prestige*2

Best bit: Reclining lazily in a courtyard cafe in Buenos Aires, Will Smith's Nicky swirls a glass of allegedly expensive red wine and drawls to Margot Robbie's Jess, "I can convince anyone of anything…", seemingly unaware that this has placed him on the event horizon of a black hole, created by the crushing density of the irony of the statement, given the actor delivering it.

Part of your brain actually believes that Smith himself believes what his own character is saying, and that only makes things worse as everything in existence is inexorably compacted into a thespic singularity…

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
It's not unfortunately, and its general release is on the 27th February, two days after the end of Orange Wednesdays. Don't worry, it'll soon be £3 in Asda.

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
Rental, tops. Unless you want to spend the £3 in Asda.

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
For me? Not by a long shot.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
*looks over glasses*.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Focus stars Margot Robbie, who played Charlotte in About Time, alongside Domhnall Gleeson from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 ©Tokyosexwhale, used without permission or notification, but with gratitude and admiration nonetheless.
*2 Yes you're right, I did really enjoy Now You See Me, but The Prestige is a much stronger film, and the point still stands anyway so you shut up.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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