Which would you rather see?
A Russian film with an Oscar nomination (LEVIATHAN) or a slick Hollywood film starring Will Smith as a con man (FOCUS)?
A large majority of the nation’s movie critics would choose the Russian film. But I think the Will Smith movie is a lot more enjoyable.
99 critics out of a hundred recommend LEVIATHAN, so I expected it to be very good. And it is well directed, well acted, and beautifully shot, but it’s also long, slow and relentlessly tragic. Absolutely nothing good happens to the characters. And, in fact, things get worse and worse as the movie goes on.
It begins when the local mayor arrives at the main character’s house.
Kolya: What’s up? You guys need help?
Mayor: Kolya, Don’t you recognize authority when you see it?
Kolya: And what do you want, “Authority?”
Mayor: Just all of this.
Kolya lives in a choice location on the ocean, and the corrupt mayor wants to seize it for his own business purposes. And in a system like Russia’s, there’s very little Kolya can do.
But his lawyer friend digs up some dirt from the mayor’s past and basically blackmails him.
Lawyer: I want Kolya to keep what’s his.
Mayor: That’s not possible.
And so begins an escalation of trouble that ends in the ruination of every character you might care about.
There are a few light moments when Kolya’s friends used portraits of old Soviet premiers for target practice, and there are plenty of scenes when people are so drunk on vodka they can barely walk let alone think straight.
But overall, LEVIATHAN, is only worth seeing if you feel like watching an artistic film about human misery.
FOCUS, on the other hand, is pure escapism.
Nicky: At the end of the day this is a game of focus.
Attention is like a spotlight and our job is to dance in the darkness. (He steals her watch and then holds it up to her.)
Jess: I didn’t even feel you take that.
Nicky: If you get their focus, you can take whatever you want.
WILL SMITH plays a debonair con man called Nicky in FOCUS, a clever and entertaining caper film. Nicky is attracted to Jess, a lovely novice in the art of the conning.
She’s played by Margot Robbie, the talented Australian actress who was Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.
FOCUS got only mixed reviews from the nation’s critics, but I enjoyed it. The polished cinematography is top notch; the actors are excellent; and the many con game surprises kept me interested.
FOCUS won’t win any awards, but it’s a pleasure to watch.
Terry Hunter, Hawaii News Now.