Focus – Film Review

Focus

Watching a mediocre film is not much fun but trying to write about it is even worse. No high praise or undiluted rage; just minor complaints and a general feeling of apathy to share with the world.

Will Smith is a veteran con man who takes Margo Robbie’s amateur thief under his wing when she fails to rip him off. Smith runs a gang of thieves who work together to pull off major heists including stealing watches and picking pockets. Oceans Eleven this is not. Over a short space of time Smith and Robbie fall in love. OR DO THEY?!?!? Then with the initial petty theft completed they do not see each other for three years. It must be true love. They are reunited when Smith starts working for an F1 team as a freelance hustler and lo and behold his new boss’ beau is Robbie. Robbie is in love and out of the scamming game. OR IS SHE?!?!? Events unfold from here in a predictably twisty turning way.

Focus is not just a con movie but has desires on being a romantic comedy too. As such it needs to succeed on two fronts to win over its audience; it needs a strong con and a believable romance. Sadly it has neither. Rather than stealing millions from The Man™ in an elaborate web of subterfuge our heroes are out there on the street taking mobile phones from distracted tourists before selling them off for small amounts. These are the people I am supposed to be on the look out for when I leave the office. These are not the sleek and sexy rogues Focus wants us to embrace. A second scheme in the latter half of the film’s weird structure is a bit more complicated but fails at blowing minds when the big reveal comes round.

Focus 2

So the film does not have a strong con. OR DOES IT?!?!? It doesn’t. But how does the romance stack up? Margot Robbie and Will Smith are both perfectly fine actors, and we should applaud any film that includes an interracial relationship without drawing attention to it, but the chemistry between the two is sadly lacking. We need to believe that, cons aside, at least one of the pair is in love with the other but we aren’t given any reason to. Their time together is fleeting and often filled with deception leaving their romance sceptical at best, and that’s before even thinking about the age difference.

A film that wants to be a sleek and sexy con movie with a romantic comedy twist instead comes across as a mismatched relationship between two petty thieves. There are a few laughs along the way, and some welcome distraction in the form of Adrian Martinez, but for the most part Focus is just a bland film about unlikeable criminals who don’t seem to pause for a second to question the morality of their chosen profession. If you are looking for an inoffensive film then you have found it, but if you want to see something truly exciting I suggest you look elsewhere.

Focus is on general release now.

Spotlight On – Six Degrees of Separation

Today I am shining the spotlight on an old film and the recent revival of the play it was based on, John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, and Kevin Bacon isn’t going to be mentioned once. It is about to get cultured up in here.

Both play and film are about an upper class couple in New York whose evening is interrupted by a young man claiming to be Sidney Poitier’s son. The arrival of this character disrupts their lives and the lives of those they know, the script exploring the idea of family and of how people are connected.

The film does not differ greatly from the play but for moving scenes to various locations and the removal of some dialogue. The biggest different I could identify was the pace, the film coming in a full twenty minutes longer with very little additional material. While the play charges forward at a pace that forces you to pay attention, and try to keep up with the wonderful rhythm of the dialogue, the film lingers a little longer allowing you to more easily take in what is being said.

I preferred the way the play just kept moving and, as can happen when a play is transferred directly to film, found some of the dialogue sounded odd when spoken on film which is less forgiving of the hyper-reality allowed onstage. There is no denying this is a play first and foremost and so more suited to that format. That said the acting in both was brilliant and I’m sure I’ve never seen Will Smith turn in such an impressive performance, but then I’ve never seen Ali. Smith is however put to shame by the relative newcomer Obi Abili who has made the role his own.

The script has barely aged a day in the twenty years since being written and this year’s revival, while at just ninety minutes is a succinct and enjoyable trip to theatre. Obviously not everyone can go and see the play but the film is brilliant in it’s own way; Stockard Channing, Ian McKellen and Donald Sutherland can’t be wrong.

Six Degrees of Separation is on at The Old Vic until 3rd April 2010 and the film is available from amazon.co.uk on DVD.

And now a bit where I ramble:

The title of the play comes from the well known theory that everyone is separated by only six degrees of separation, a theory that comes into play when you look at the cast of the film and play. The female lead in the film Stockard Channing starred in the 2007 film Sparkle with both Lesley Manville and Anthony Head who play the female lead and her husband in the play. Also Donald Sutherland both play the same character and have both taken on the role of watcher in different incarnations of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ian McKellan and Ian Redford also play the same character and both have had extended stints on Coronation Street. If we’re going to get really tedious then J. J. Abrams went on from his small role in the film to produce the short lived TV series Six Degrees based on this very theory.