A very odd blend of caper action, dark drama and romantic comedy, this slickly made con-artist romp never quite finds its stride. There's a merciful vein of sharp wit in the script, thanks to writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy Stupid Love) and a spiky performance from Margot Robbie. But Will Smith's presence leaves everything feeling rather tame, compromising his character by making him a nice-guy crook rather than the unpredictable black-comedy protagonist he really should have been.
It opens as the wide-eyed Jess (Robbie) approaches veteran grifter Nicky (Smith) about learning the art of the con. She follows him to New Orleans for some major pickpocketing and double-crossing in the run-up to a big football championship, but Nicky unceremoniously dumps her afterwards. Three years later, they meet again in Buenos Aires, where both appear to be running scams centred around the Formula One team owned by Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro), who's never far from his right-hand goon (Gerald McRaney). With help from his old pal Farhad (Adrian Martinez), Nicky sets out to run his sting. But Jess is a distraction, and the stakes are too high for him to take his eye off the game.
While it's one of the running gags, Nicky's soft centre is a serious problem here, making the movie feel like a vanity project for Smith, who seems far too determined to be sympathetic. (Ficarra and Requa know how to make an anti-hero likeable: see Bad Santa.) Instead, Smith is a jarring combination of beefy physicality, fast-talking thievery and squidgy emotions. Robbie is able to more effectively merge Jess' gung-ho personality with her gleeful criminality, but when they're both together on-screen it's impossible not to feel like everything about the characters' relationship is a big con. So we wait for the script to reveal its clever twists and turns. But they're surprisingly few and oddly inconsequential.
Continue reading: Focus Review
While sitting at the bar of a hotel lobby one night, a man catches a glimpse of an attractive young woman and goes over to introduce himself. That man is Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) and that woman is Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie). When the two go back to Barrett's room for the night, a gunman attacks Spurgeon, demanding all of his money. The problem is, Spurgeon is a seasoned conman, and is able to quickly sniff out a scam when it arises. After imparting both Barrett and her assailant with some lessons in the art of conning, Spurgeon leaves. Three years later, Spurgeon and Barrett will be reunited in a dangerous game of deception and theft.
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Nicky Spurgeon is a genius when it comes to his work as a con man in the criminal underworld but decides to take on an intern in the form of the beautiful, blonde, aspiring criminal Jess Barrett. However, things soon get a little complicated when a spark ignites between them and Nicky is forced to let her go rather than jeopardise their professional circumstances. They are reunited some years later, however, in Buenos Aires with Jess having gone on to perfect the art of elusive scamming as a grade A femme fatale for another con man and Nicky's interest soon re-awakens when he sees her in action. Unfortunately, this time they are working against each other in their most dangerous operation yet and Nicky is torn between wanting to protect her and wanting to do the right thing.
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Our three heroes are brother convicts sprung from prison because of their ability to pull off their capers with dispatch and safety. As the one who comes up with the clever strategies, ringleader Dale Twentyman (Guy Pearce) has certain standards, and one of them is his insistence that "no one gets hurt." His bothers Mal (Damien Richardson), a sweet and perhaps a bit retarded master chef (as far as the prison population is concerned), and Shane (Joel Edgerton), the sometimes raging, creepy, close-to-the-edge schizophrenic who likes to be called "Muscles," are perfectly willing to go along with Dale's insistence on carrying unloaded guns so long as he comes up with plans that work.
Continue reading: The Hard Word Review
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The snappy caper: A planned-to-a-T, multi-million dollar racetrack robbery wrought with the danger of a double-cross.
The snappy cast: A sharp cadre of Aussies led by Guy Pearce and Rachel Griffiths (two of that country's finest acting exports) as a magnetically smug life-long greaseball and his playing-both-sides-against-her-own-middle tart of a disloyal wife.
The practical upshot: "The Hard Word" is a wily, performance-driven heist-gone-wrong picture with shrewd underworld savvy reminiscent of "Snatch" without the smug self-awareness.
Continue reading: The Hard Word Review