Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) is a seasoned grifter from a long line of con men. His father and grandfather were flim flam artists and now he is passing along the tricks of the trade to Jess (Margot Robbie) a beautiful newcomer with a light touch—perfect for picking pockets—who just might get Nicky to break his golden rule of never getting emotionally involved with anyone.
When Spurgeon first spots Jess she is working a low level scam in a hotel bar. He teaches her how to use misdirection to pick pockets. “You get their focus,” he says, “and then you can take whatever you like.” Using a mixture of his methods and chutzpah they hit the rubes at the Superbowl in New Orleans, raking in over a million dollars in one week.
A nervy game of one-upmanship nets another big score, and Jess, thinking she is part of the team—both professionally and romantically—imagines a life of crime with Nicky until he unceremoniously dumps her, gifting her with $80,000 and a free ride to the airport.
Three years later Nicky is in Buenos Aires working a big job for billionaire Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro). To his surprise Jess is also there, but is she working an angle or has she gone straight?
One part Scorsese, one part Soderbergh, with a healthy dose of “The Sting” thrown in, “Focus” is a stylish crime drama more about the characters than the crime. Nicky’s maxims—“Die with the lie.”—set the scene, but the story is more about a commitment-phobe who loses himself over a woman. It works because of the chemistry between Smith and Robbie. They have great repartee, trade snappy dialogue and despite a gaping age difference, make a credible couple.
Smith hasn’t been this effortlessly charming in years and Robbie blends streetwise—“It’s a minor miracle I’m not a hooker right now,” she says.—with easy charm. The pair are a winning combo, reminiscent of the spark-plug chemistry between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in “Out of Sight.”
“Focus” could use a bit more focus in the storytelling—a late movie plot twist doesn’t ring true given the lead up to the big reveal—but it zips along at such a pace and is enough fun that you may not notice.