Thursday, April 2, 2015

Focus (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Will Smith Has "Focus"

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
I’ve been fascinated by grifters and con artists ever since I saw "The Flim-Flam Man," a 1967 movie based on a book by an old family friend, Guy Owen. In that film George C. Scott played a confidence man with a handful of spurious degrees -- M.B.S., C.S., D.D.  that is, "Master of Back-Stabbing, Cork-Screwing and Dirty-Dealing!"
We like con men because they represent a familiar archetype -- the trickster. These are clever bad boys who are smarter than their victims. We’d like to think we’re smart like these foxes, too. But chances are, they’ll just take our money and run.

"Focus" is a new romantic crime comedy (dare we call it a "rom-crim"?) starring Will Smith as a veteran con man out to pull off a big scam, when a beautiful femme fatale throws him off course.

"Focus" is currently taking moviegoers’ money at Tropic Cinema. But we don’t mind. Will Smith is that good.

He started his career as the Fresh Prince, a slick rap artist living the good life in Bel Air. Branching from music to movies, he did a 1993 film about a young trickster who passed himself off as the son of Sidney Poitier. A youthful con man.

As an actor, Will Smith has that ability that gave con men their name. Back in 1849 a man named William Thomson was arrested as what New York newspapers termed a "confidence man." His criminal technique: He chatted with strangers until he had their confidence to lend him their watches, whereupon he would walk off with the in-his-possession swag.

In "Focus" we meet Nicky Spurgeon (played by Smith), a grifter who becomes romantically involved with Jess Barrett (Aussie actress Margot Robbie), a woman he’d once taken under his wing to teach the tricks of the trade. Now back together again, the question is who is conning whom?

I love these battle-of-wits stories. Like a chess game. Think: "The Thomas Crown Affair," but this time they’re both lovable crooks.

Set in Buenos Aires, the scam involves a billionaire racecar owner who is the target. It’s a big con involving millions.

"I can convince anybody of anything," says our grifter.

"There’s no room for heart in this game; it’ll get you killed," he’s told, something he already knows. Nonetheless he’s drawn to the beautiful blonde who may just be as clever as he is.

The movie poster warns us to "Never Lose Focus." That may be the mantra for a con artist. But it’s good advice for us potential marks too.

No comments: