Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Women
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Language and Sexual Content
Gender Roles - Women: 2 Stars
Jess is a likeable enough character, but there's little about her that is inspiring or empowering. She finds her way into the world of petty criminals, but doesn't have any stated goals for when the money starts coming in. Her tastes are extravagant and her interests are short-term and simple. She seeks pleasure where she can find it and doesn't give much thought to the morality of the world she's entered or the potential consequences. She appears to be content as long as she is surrounded by luxury and excitement, regardless of who is footing the bill.
Gender Roles - Men: 1 Star
Nikki is a professional con man who believes love is a weakness that can get him killed - and yet he is portrayed as the hero that ultimately wins Jess’s affections. He does share some personal memories with her that explains where he developed his unhealthy attitude towards intimacy. But he never offers her a heartfelt apology for the way he treated her in New Orleans, or truly proves that he’s a changed man. In fact, Nikki never even admits to Jess that he loves her. We can read between the lines based on his behavior, but there’s nothing progressive about a man who is so afraid of real, human emotion. At the end of the film his father tells us that Nikki turned out to be one of the “good guys,” despite his best efforts - and yet Focus contains little evidence that Nikki is in fact a "good guy," or that he’s ever done anything that isn’t inherently selfish.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 1 Star
From the very beginning, Jess is assured of her ability to learn the tricks of the trade, and this self-confidence gives her some charm. She also displays some fortitude when Nikki tries to come back into her life, insisting that she’s happy with Rafael and that she doesn’t want him back. It doesn’t take long, however, for Nikki to convince her otherwise. And we’re left with the impression that she isn’t quite the independent, self-respecting woman that she appears to be. Jess is able to use her sexuality as a decoy when she’s stealing from unsuspecting passers-by, and under the circumstances, the tactic could be interpreted as simply making use of her resources rather than demeaning herself. Throughout the film, she appears to be in control of herself and her body, but it’s unfortunate that she never develops the same cleverness that Nikki has in twisting the emotions and perceptions of his victims. Focus tries to make Jess out to be a skilled criminal, but she never comes across as more than a petty thief who uses male lust to gain the upper hand. The end result, of course, is that her body receives more attention than her personality.
Plot: 1 Star (Spoilers)
Focus leads you to believe that this is the sort of story where Jess, the student, eventually learns enough to challenge her teacher and pay him back for the way he treated her so many years ago. Audiences are likely expecting Jess to play a clever mind game with Nikki and show him what it truly feels like to have someone bend your perceptions and abuse your trust. But no such cat and mouse game ever develops. To the contrary, Jess never graduates beyond lifting watches and purses, and she's fairly quick to forgive Nikki for his earlier transgressions. When it comes down to it, Jess is simply the thing that motivates Nikki to change his philosophy on love, but she doesn't come close to matching his talent for deception and persuasion. She is, in all possibility, just another victim of it.
Character Development: 1 Star
We’re told that Jess is an orphan, but more than likely, this tidbit is thrown into the dialogue simply to justify her criminal behavior. The film never explores how her childhood might have shaped her own views on love and intimacy, or created some deep-seated fear of abandonment. Had they developed some of these issues, we might have seen some more intense interactions between her and Nikki when he reappears in Buenos Aires. To the contrary, she comes across as a perfectly well-adjusted young woman who has a taste for cheap thrills and easy money. She doesn’t have enough depth to her to hold your interest for long, or to even feel too sorry for her when things start to go south.
Love: 1.5 Stars
Nikki and Jess shared an obvious connection in New Orleans, but it was hardly the sort of romance that would have survived such a cold dismissal and three years of empty time and distance. One would hope that Jess would have moved past that ancient hurt by the time she sees him again and barely waste the energy it would take to shake her head at him and walk away. The idea that she is still in love with him after all this time is a bit difficult to swallow, and may even give men the foolish impression that there is always another chance to win the girl back. That women are desperate enough for love and validation that they will forgive even the cruelest break-ups at the hope of reconciling. The film does suggest at one point that Jess returns to Nikki partially because Rafael has been abusive or cruel, but running from one jerk to another isn't much of an improvement.
Language and Sexual Content: 3 Stars
Focus doesn’t use much harsh language, though Jess is occasionally referred to as a “racing skank.” Nikki defends her when people demean her like that and the brief exchanges are clearly meant to be funny. But at the same time, part of the reason audiences will find it funny is that they agree with the loaded phrase, and may in fact perpetuate the legitimacy of the label.
The sexual content in Focus is fairly standard for this sort of film. Nothing is lewd or demeaning and in fact, indicates that Jess is in touch with and in control of her own sexuality. Like so many films these days, there is a noticeable age difference between Nikki and Jess which reinforces the idea that men’s sex appeal is based on power and influence, and retained well into their later years, whereas women’s sexuality is based on youth and vulnerability and has a limited shelf-life. There is nothing inherently wrong with these pairings, but it is certainly a reflection of Hollywood’s own perception of the value and appeal of older women, as opposed to older men.
Nikki is a master of deception and influence who uses his skills to con unsuspecting victims out of their valuables. Jess is young woman who wants in on the game. Nikki mentors her in the art of lifting wallets, gambling and toying with people’s perceptions, but after a short-lived romance, abandons her in New Orleans. Three years later, Nikki finds himself in Buenos Aires, preparing to pull off a major heist. Until he runs into Jess, who is now romantically involved with his next target.
Kelly is a labor law