I Keep Forgetting to Review ‘Focus’
Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie
Plot: A seasoned con man takes a naive grifter under his wing, and the two attempt to balance a budding romance amid pulling big scores.
Review: It’s been a couple of months since I saw this movie on it’s release, but I haven’t reviewed it. This isn’t due to any particular malice or agenda…I just keep forgetting about it. There’s a reason for this. Part of this movie is so fascinatingly stupid that watching it killed some of my brain cells. This portion of my brain must have included my short term memory because I never got around to writing up a review.
Ok, here’s the recap: this is the latest über-slick Hollywood con movie. The actors are there to be unrealistically cool and sexy while they effortlessly pull off misdirects and con jobs and then double cross each other 6 or 7 times in the final act. It escapes the label of being the most generic example of the sub-genre due to the romantic plot at the centre of it. Then at the halfway point we get one of those scenes where we think a big con is failing before they show us a bunch of flashbacks revealing that it all went to plan.
These scenes are usually the best in the movie, the one where we realise that it was all in front of us from the start and we were to absorbed in the coolness to notice. The film-makers got one over us! In Focus they do this scene and it makes so little sense that you’re going to be dumber for having watched it.
Will Smith (I don’t remember the character’s name, he’s a stock Will Smith character) takes Margot Robbie’s character to a football game. During the game the start placing silly bets with each other. This gets the attention of a wealthy businessman who joins in. The bets escalate further and further until Will is losing millions to this business man. The scene plays out well and comes across as an insight into the character (which becomes meaningless when you find out it’s a scam). The escalation of the bets has some real suspense to it.
It culminates with the bet that the businessman can pick out a football player and Margot Robbie can guess which one it is. Looking through the binoculars she sees a member of their team on the pitch and, realising that it’s a set-up, picks him. They walk away with millions.
So how did Will know that businessman would pick that one? Well, as Will explains it, they ‘programmed his brain’.
Wait, they did what now?
In flashback we find out they used subliminal messages to convince the guy to have the number of the player on his mind. This is done by having the number appear everywhere from pins on collars and on shirts. His hotel room number, carved and hanging from chandeliers, on a prostitute’s tattoo…even on the way to the game they’d have hired thousands of people to wear the same jersey. By seeing the number everywhere “but he doesn’t know he’s seeing it” (eh?) Will had ‘programmed’ him to pick that number football player’s number.
Not only does that make no sense whatsoever, and is riddled with plot-holes for something that is passed of as a water-tight scheme, but it’s ridiculously stupid. For what reason did they think this was going to work?
Putting aside the really obvious problems, like how they got that guy on the pitch, how they choreographed thousands of people, how they convinced a woman to get a random number tattoo, how they snuck around a hotel hiding toy numbers every where…WHY DID THEY THINK THIS WAS GOING TO WORK?! What’s the basis for this assumption? Was the real bet that this shit would work, or that they could convince audiences that this crap would fly?
My god, it’s so bloody stupid. I watched the scene three times trying, URGING it to make sense. Maybe I missed something the first time? Nope, it’s just idiotic. As a narrative twist it fails, because it’s impossible to see coming and thus feels removed from the suspension of disbelief. Also, THEY PROGRAMMED HIS BRAIN? WHAT?!
I can’t tell you much about the movie before and after this scene, I got really hung up on how stupid it was. I don’t remember who ended up conning who, whether or not they got the money or whether they wound up together in the end. Margot Robbie was rad, I remember that. Really looking forward to seeing her play Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, she feels like the perfect choice. As to this film, I don’t remember it well enough to fairly judge it. I just know that it made me stupider than I was before.