Blu-ray Review: Focus (2015)

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The Will Smith vehicle Focus didn’t quite ignite the box office earlier this year upon its theatrical release. Critical reaction was lukewarm, at best. Now that it’s available to own on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, and Digital HD (June 2, 2015) from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, hopefully Focus will be discovered by a wider audience. Maybe the one-word, enigmatic title was a misstep as it conveyed none of the playful, endlessly twisty elements that make Focus such a blast. Will Smith took a beating for the mega-bomb After Earth last year (which was far from unwatchable, truth be told), but he’s back in excellent form here. As professional con artist Nicky Spurgeon, Smith delivers a confidently smooth, pleasingly mature performance.

Fresh from her breakthrough role in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, Margot Robbie matches Smith’s charm as newbie grifter Jess Barrett. Co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa rely heavily on the chemistry between Smith and Robbie, but their crafty screenplay deserves a great deal of credit. Ficarra and Requa throw curve after curve, beginning with Jess’ attempts to rook Nicky out of a few bucks after coming onto him in a nightclub. Nicky’s onto her game from the word go. He’s attracted to her (duh), but also sees a spark in her. Before long, Nicky and Jess are in New Orleans and he’s introducing her to the big time world of cons and scams. He takes her under his wing, but luckily Focus doesn’t play out the way one might expect it to.

Focus 3 (380x253).jpgUltimately a bit too lightweight for its own good, there’s still great entertainment value here as the setting switches from New Orleans to Buenos Aires, then back to the U.S. again, spanning several years. Some of Nicky’s scams are a bit far-fetched in their complexity, but just suspend your disbelief and they’re a lot of fun. Even though it’s mostly Smith and Robbie’s show, B.D. Wong has a great supporting bit as a rich compulsive gambler. Gerald McRaney brings a sense of gravity to his role as Owens, security honcho for bigtime car racing team owner Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro). There’s a real aura of unpredictability to Focus, which makes up for the overall lack of emotional heft. The whole thing is an expertly crafted mousetrap of a movie that keeps viewers guessing about who’s playing who.

Focus 2 (380x253).jpgFirst-rate technical specs make Warner Bros.’ Focus Blu-ray a stellar viewing experience. Xavier PĂ©rez Grobet's sleek, sharp, cool cinematography looks absolutely flawless in this outstanding transfer. Perhaps even better is the DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack that really kicks in with supercharged LFE activity particularly whenever music is featured. This isn’t an action movie by any means, but Focus’ complex sound design packs in plenty of opportunities for detailed directional sound effects. In this day and age, we have no reason to expect anything but the best from a studio-backed, major league release. That’s precisely what we get here.

Special features are a bit on the superficial side, unfortunately. “Masters of Misdirection: The Players in a Con” is a too-brief (ten minutes) look at real dirty work performed by professional scammers. There are two character featurettes (one for Will Smith’s character, the other for Margot Robbie’s) that combine for another ten minutes. There’s also a handful of deleted scenes plus an alternate opening. Warner’s Blu-ray Combo pack also includes a standard DVD and a downloadable Digital Copy.

Focus BD cover (300x380).jpg

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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