Every heist or con movie has that moment. The moment where the rug is pulled for the first or fifth time and what follows involves the film slowly abandoning any development in the characters which drive it in favour of its own clever-clever aspirations.
The real surprise in Focus, beyond the rug pulls and plot meanders, is how deftly it avoids these pitfalls. Focus begins with characters and ends with them having grown, whatever happens in between seems merely in service of this arc and not, as is so often the case, the opposite.
Not to say that Focus‘ setpieces are in any way deficient. The films big crescendo, occurring around halfway through, is a brilliant, satisfyingly contained spectacle which subverts expectation and anticipation fantastically. There’s been rather a lot of complaints surrounding the film’s final half, which deposits its characters years hence in the Mediterranean amidst battling F1 tycoons. The criticism seems to centre around the slowed, meandering pace in comparison to that of the first half. Yet this pace plays to the films strengths, by allowing its leads to breathe outwith the confines of a more restrictive plot.
The film is always at its best when its leads, Will Smith and Margot Robbie, are given space; with Smith bringing Big Willie Style back in such a way as to cause wonder at how Hollywood has survived in its absence, and Robbie managing expertly to pull of a relatable, everywoman charm around her otherwise intimidating beauty. The interplay between the two is fast and fierce, responsible for much of the films big laughs, and the equal focus the film gives to both makes for a refreshing spin on the male lead/love interest dynamic elsewhere in the genre.
Focus is a film that knows what it is, and is simultaneously accepting and subverting of this, playing as much against as to convention whilst never dropping the traditional genre beats we know and love. Like the perfect con, Focus remains committed to what makes it work, and constantly evades expectation. Crucially, however, we’re left no poorer when it pulls it off.