Will Smith returns to the big screen for the first time since the abysmal After Earth which was an excruciating episode of vanity and nepotism. Smith's comeback is in a film written and directed by the pair of Glenn Ficarra and John Fuqua, who have directed I Love You Philip Morris.
Much like that film which was primarily about a con-man, the pair have form and continue the trend with this film about Nicky Spurgeon (Smith) a con man who is looking for that one last job to retire on, yet his head is turned by the new rookie for his crew, Jess (Margot Robbie). Jess is a small time hustler who works for cash and watches from businessmen in hotels.
The first encounter between the pair is when Jess tries to play Nicky, leading to Nicky being held at gunpoint by Jess' partner where Nicky does not blink at the threat of being shot. Nicky tracks down Jess and she asks to be tutored by Nicky, leading to her following him down to New Orleans and a huge American football match where Nicky's crew hopes to fleece millions from tourists for the big event.
Ficarra and Fuqua are extremely confident in their visual style, the scene in the French Quarter which serves as Jess' initiation to the group is shot with panache and creates a laidback temp to the film. Yet when it needs to be slowed down with the key scene in a luxury suite opposite Chinese gambler, Liyuan (a scene stealing B.D. Wong) is efficient in not showing its hand too soon and leads the audience on convincingly.
The fallout leads to a separation between Nicky and Jess, leading to the second act in Buenos Aires and a scam involving technology and Formula One race teams. The film does get drawn into an inevitable resolution of conscience for the criminal wanting to go clean and straight, leading to a change of heart. There is a shock twist that leads to you being embedded in the character. This is in part down to the telling performance of Smith, who plays Nicky with a little less charisma than his usual self.
All huge movie stars at one time or another play a con man in their career - think of Robert Redford and Paul Newman in The Sting (still the epitome of con men movie), George Clooney and Brad Pitt in Oceans 11 and even Hugh Jackman in The Prestige (yes, they were magicians but aren't all magicians confidence tricksters). Smith is seemingly playing this role so he can slow his body down, he has to carry the film purely on the strength of acting and playing it cool; yet there are moments when Smith is seen being contemplative and still, in all essence he is trying to maintain focus.
Is the Fresh Prince finally worrying about ageing and the onrushing of time to his body and persona? Perhaps that is why he plays the scene when he and Jess separates in New Orleans so solemnly and devoid of emotion, maybe Smith does not like being cruel or distant as it is so against his public persona both on-screen and off.
All in all though, the film is brilliantly entertaining and gives credence to supporting characters such as Farhad, a sexually starved pest played delightfully by Adrian Martinez and the driver of Garriga as we follow him on his lifestyle before he does his handiwork is the sort of scene not normally allowed in Hollywood film, but give the henchmen his due sometimes. Funny, entertaining and worth your attention, sorry focus.
Focus is out now in all cinemas