Con artist films, and those that are about misdirection and deception, often lead an audience into trying to second-guess everything they see on screen. From the first frame, you're on your guard and analysing what you see for the con. Directors will use that instinct to analyse against the audiences for their own ends. With Focus, directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are less interested in the con and more about who's playing.
Will Smith is Nicky, a veteran hustler who runs a tight operation lifting and skimming people's jewellery, wallets, anything that can be readily stolen and sold quickly for a volume business. When he crosses paths with Jess (Margot Robbie), he's convinced to take her on as an intern and show her the ropes. Almost immediately, there's chemistry between them and it really does ooze off of the screen. After a tense and successful con, involving an oblivious Jess, Smith's character separates entirely - fearing that she is getting too close to him. Flash forward to three years later and Smith's character is working a Formula One owner (Rodrigo Santoro) in a race-fixing scam involving a "fuel-burning algorithm" that will allow anyone to win. Robbie's character turns up as the Formula One owner's love interest, which obviously plays on his mind and begins to affect his judgement.
Ficarra and Requa's previous work, Crazy Stupid Love with Ryan Gosling and Steve Carrell, is a factor in Focus. Like that enjoyable rom-com, the setup is weak, however they're able to work it to the best of their abilities. Con-artistry films have been done to death - Matchstick Men, Ocean's Eleven, going all the way back to The Sting - and rarely wow an audience. Instead, the film's focus - pun unintended - is on Smith and Robbie, who light up the screen with their easy charm and charisma. The supporting cast of Gerald McRaney, Brennan Brown and Adrian Martinez fill out their roles reasonably well, with McRaney chewing the scenery whenever he's left alone.
The script is, for the most part, reasonably inoffensive. It's clear that Robbie and Smith are improvising certain scenes and the direction is strong enough to roll around them and not seem anything less than slick. That's what Focus is at the core - a slick, playful drama with attractive leads and gorgeous scenery. Buenos Aires is drenched in white and sun, with the Formula One aspect giving it an air of glitter and glamour. As with all con-artists film, it loses the run of itself in the final third, when we are made of aware of the "big con" that everyone seems to be in on. The finale itself is certainly eye-roll levels of obviousness, but the film's light and airy ways store up enough good will to let it slide.
Overall, it's a light and entertaining affair with a great soundtrack and a lot of gloss, making it a perfect date movie - not unlike Crazy Stupid Love.