Never drop the con die with the lie is the mantra of third generation confidence man Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith). Nicky meets Jess Barrett (Margo Robbie) at a hotel bar in New York City. Nicky is in the bar because he landed a table at an exclusive restaurant posing as a famous chef while Jess picks out Nicky as a rescuer to escape a mauler hitting on at the bar. Jess tries to run a scam that a veteran Nicky easily catches then gives her a few tricks of the trade before he departs for the Big football game XVII in New Orleans.
Jess follows finding Nicky in another hotel eating establishment the joins the crew as an interim. She gets to know the players on Nicky's crew as they lift wallets, watches and credit cards from easy unaware marks in town for the big game. Husbands looking for a good time and groups from out of town landing on the hour at Louis Armstrong airport are prim targets for Nicky's crew. They are not interested in the big retirement score but rather looking for volume as they ply their craft in the streets of the French Quarter and Hotel lobbies in the Big Easy. After a very successful week the crew makes one final play on game day that is a risk but has the capability to turn into a large reward.
The narrative shifts to Buenos Aries a good while after the events in New Orleans. Nicky is working for Spanish race team owner Garriga (Rodrigo Santro) that has a new technology he is looking to implement but one team owner McEwen (Robert Taylor) is standing in his way. The pair hatch a plan to deal with the disgruntled team allowing Garriga to freely use his technology on the circuit. As Nicky is about to put the plan into place Jess shows up as Martinez's girl turning the events upside down along with the two heavies Garriga's Owens (Gerald McRaney) McEwen's Jared (Dominic Fumusa) who are not Nicky's biggest fan.
Writer Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa present a fast paced caper that thrives in the opening part of the film. The story has habit of placing key scenes in hotel lobby bars and restaurants for building into the transient nature of those engaged in the profession. There are no meetings at the office or a residence as con artists tend not to be in one local for a long period of time. Cinematographer Xavier Grobert pushes the blue's grey's and silver's to give the film a high end look painting a world of money, toys and status that that con artist always wants to display to the world. The sequence of multiple running games and cons at the fictional AFFA Big Game XVII week in New Orleans probably needs a rewatch to catch every rapid-fire pickpocket and bag swipe that appears on screen in a 5 minute span. The credit for the delicate ballet goes to Apollo Robbins The Gentleman Thief as consultant and choreographers of the original sleight of hand maneuvers
Will Smith is solid as Nicky. He is believable in the role getting off a few Smith trademark jokes but his performance does leave a lingering thought that there could be bit more he could have given to the role. Margot Robbie continues her accession to the position of it girl in Hollywood. She handles the role of Jess well switching back and forth from naive intern to junior con to the one running the rouse. Gerald McRainey is notable as the heavy for Garriga Owens. He is crusty does not like the work ethic of Nicky's generation and the main force along with Robbie that keep the second half of the film going.
Focus is an entertaining film. The story moves on multiple levels and layers that could loose some viewers with the twists coming on a loop right to the closing scenes. The two main locations New Orleans and Buenos Aires are suitable for the jet setting fare. The cast do a good job with the material making it a film I can recommend.
*** out of 4.
Focus | Glenn Ficarra / John Requa | U.S.A. | 2015 | 104 Minutes.
Tags: Confidence Man, Crime, Football, Auto Racing, New Orleans, Buenos Aires, Father -Son, Teacher - Protege.