Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Year 9, Day 11 - 1/11/17 - Movie #2,511

BEFORE:  Last night, there was some kind of electrical fire on our street, which led to a partial black-out of our block.  Our house never lost power, but our lights began flickering, so we powered down whatever we could - the lights, the TV and the computers, and grabbed some flashlights, waiting for the power to go down completely, but for us it never did.  The houses across the street were dark, so it seems like we were just outside the radius of the affected area, which was a bit strange.   I'd never seen a blackout where the area was so keenly defined, affecting THAT house but not THAT one - maybe I'd just never lived in the spot that happened to be right on the edge before.  

But I walked down the block to where a fire engine was parked, just a bit from where the fire was bursting out of a manhole in the street, with a loud ZZT-ZZT sound, the kind of sound you hear in movies when Dr. Frankenstein turns on his giant electrical doohickeys that are going to bring the monster to life.  Since we never lost power, I was able to watch my movie on schedule, and the chain was allowed to continue.  Rodrigo Santoro carries over from "The 33"

THE PLOT:  In the midst of veteran con man Nicky's latest scheme, a woman from his past - now an accomplished femme fatale - shows up and throws his plans for a loop.

AFTER: This is a classic example of proper three-act structure.  Set-up, conflict, resolution.  Though some break down the story structure a little further and call it "six-act", the principle is the same.  Roughly, the six acts are: 1) backstory/teaser and exposition 2) establishment of characters / macguffin 3) establishment of major goal 4) Minor reversals and complications 5) rising action and suspense / climax and 6) denouement / conclusions.  Ideally, between these six things there should be 5 turning points, and two goals.  

This film follows the 3 (or 6) act structure in a major way.  Act I (or 1+2), introduce the characters, put them on a collision course, set them up with a similar goal.  Act II (or 3+4) is the time in New Orleans, working the crowd around the big football game and then the complications that follow, and Act III (or 5+6) is set in Buenos Aires at the car race, the conflict when the characters come back together and the suspense over whether each will succeed in reaching their goals, and the final turning point (also known as the "All is lost" moment) also leads to the twist that brings about the climax and surprise resolution.  

Once you're aware of the formula, it's difficult to NOT see it as such - so, yeah, this is why going to film school ruined my love for movies for a decade or so, because I was seeing everything in these terms, as a case study.  The structure is so blatant in "Focus", that they nearly hit you over the head with it, which is odd, because it's supposed to be a film about subtlety and distraction, and what can be accomplished (stolen) when people are looking where you want them to, instead of where they should be.  And Act I here is very, very solid, I just wish that it had set up a better conflict and resolution.

I don't want to get much more into specifics, because of spoilers, but I had problems with the cons in Acts 2 and 3 - they went from possible to unlikely to wildly impossible, and then (supposedly) back to plausible when everything was explained, but I'm not convinced.  And the way they telegraphed the climax of Act 3 with that story in Act 1 - I see what they did there, and why they had to do it, but it could still be regarded as sloppy.  As we're told in the introduction, a good con man doesn't telegraph his moves like that - I think perhaps a screenwriter shouldn't either.

NITPICK POINT: How much time passes between Act 1 and Act 2?  Months?  Years?  There's a prominent sign in New Orleans for  Super Bowl 17?  Wasn't that like back in the 1980's?  (EDIT: Ah, this is not set at the Super Bowl, Wikipedia tells me that the sporting event seen here is the Associated Football Franchise of America Championship Game.  I guess that's a thing?  And it explains why a team called the Rhinos is playing.  Or does it?)  And Wiki also tells me that three years passed between the time the characters separate in New Orleans, and reconvene in Buenos Aires - was that so difficult?  Why not add a little subtitle on the screen that reads "Three years later"?  

NITPICK POINT #2: I have to get into this - if Person A says "I'm thinking of a number, between 1 and 10" and Person B says, "Is it seven?"  Person A then has the ability, even if it WAS seven, to say, "No, sorry, it was three."  Without saying too much, this is, essentially, why the con at the football game just does not work. Period.

It's still a massive amount of fun, films about big cons usually are, like "The Sting" or "Now You See Me", being a sub-genre of the "heist" film, and delighting, as they usually do, in surprising the marks - but if you don't pay close attention here, you could also be fooled, along with the mark.

Also starring Will Smith (last seen in "Winter's Tale"), Margot Robbie (last seen in "About Time"), Adrian Martinez (last seen in "Sisters"), Gerald McRaney (last seen in "Red Tails"), BD Wong (last seen in "Jurassic World"), Brennan Brown, Dominic Fumusa, Robert Taylor, Steve Kim, Griff Furst, with a cameo from Han Soto (last seen in "The D Train").

RATING: 6 out of 10 stolen credit cards

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