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Focus

Year: 2015
Production Co: Kramer & Sigman Films
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Glen Ficarra/John Requa
Producer: Denise Di Novi
Writer: Glen Ficarra/John Requa
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Gerald McRaney, Rodrigo Santoro, Robert Taylor

The greatest strength of Focus is also its biggest weakness. If you've ever watched a Hollywood con thriller before, you'll be sure you know exactly where the story of star cross'd con artists Nicky (Will Smith) and Jess (Margot Robbie) is going.

The fact that it doesn't serve up the twist you're expecting but another twist entirely (plus a whole lot more twists besides) means writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa probably knew you'd guess how it would all turn out.

But in wanting to blindside you, they've thrown in several red herrings and double crosses too many, making the whole thing a bit of a mess. It's a shame, because everything on the surface is sexy and smooth, from the costuming and settings to the soundtrack and cinematography.

The main problem is that because of all the U turns and deceit, few of the players come through with integrity to their characters intact. Nicky is a master thief and conman, so you expect every step of his love affair with Jess to be part of a carefully calculated master plan.

Instead, by the time it's all over it seems he really did fall in love with her (which is a perfectly fine notion), but the various ways he loses control of his desire for her and throws caution to the wind do not befit a mastermind in a movie where it's all about the con.

Nicky meets the winsome young blonde while he's in New Orleans for a sporting event where he and his crew are preparing a huge pickpocketing sting amongst the crowd. When a guy bursts in while Jess is seducing him, pretending to be her husband in preparation for a shakedown, Nicky sees right through it. Impressed by his skill, she begs him for a job in his crew if he teaches her the ropes.

Jess is a natural, but – in classic Hollywood fashion – neither one of them counted on love. After a very successful operation, Nicky leaves Jess behind, apparently having decided that she'll mess up his works.

We pick the story up again a couple of years later when Nicky is preparing a job centred on stolen plans in the car racing circuit. He's shocked to discover Jess is now seeing his new employer, and it throws his world into chaos all over again.

Smith told reporters that after the failure of After Earth he decided to approach movies based on what he'd enjoy rather than what would crush the box office, and the role of the suave Nicky is perfect for him. He's still a good looking dude, looks a million bucks in snazzy garb, and when he doesn't have to save the world from aliens or bad guys and can just sit back doing his thing and looking cool, he's in his element.

The dazzling Robbie's energy matches him for every line, and their chemistry zings like that of a screen pair straight out of the golden era of the 1940s. There's a snappy Ocean's Eleven quality to the proceedings with the crime fraternity code words and dapper outfits, but the story needed as much zing as the look for Focus to really work.

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