Focus Written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.
Focus has perhaps the worst plot structure I’ve ever seen. It is essentially two exceptionally badly-structured episodes of a pulp television series released cinematically without any edits being made – it’s one hour and fifty minutes, which is your average television two-parter.
Except that rather than being a double-episode, it’s a season finale and première without any narrative connection. After the first fifty five minutes, the story suddenly shifts. Before, this was a sleek crime drama set in 2012 New Orleans. And then, all of a sudden, it’s set in 2015 Buenos Aires. Two completely different stories. And they’ve got absolutely nothing connecting them. The only thing they have in common is that the same characters are in it doing relatively what they did before.
It’s utterly perplexing. I’m almost speechless (I never completely am). Who even thought that would be a good idea? At a film basically two hours long, the first hour is a prologue to the second hour. It establishes who they are and their history and then skips forward to when the story begins. But it happens half-way through, and that means that the second act is also an epilogue to the first hour – what they did next. Where did they go? Did they ever meet again?
Focus is unique for being the film which confused me the most. Not narratively – to be honest, it was executed with such dullness that I stopped caring so it wouldn’t hurt any more – but as a concept. The idea that someone would take that story pitch and think it was an acceptable method of film-making. Did the producers not think that the story completely changing its mind as to what it wanted to be was in any way a good idea? The story’s dropped by everyone involved because they’d rather skip three whole years to where it gets interesting. The problem is, they’ve already spent so long telling it that it’s angering. Take any film you’ve seen – does it have a sequel or prequel? How would you feel if they were cut to half their length and then whammed together to create a hybrid film in place of the other? That’s what this film is.
The directors are also the screenwriters, so it tells me that they just don’t care about the audience. They don’t care about seeing a story through to its end by understanding structure, of introducing characters and using exposition to maximise story duration. They don’t care about the quality of storytelling and why it’s important to tell it well. I’ve long held the belief that nobody wants to make a bad film, but the best way to do so is to simply not care. I’m not accusing them of wanting to make an objectively bad film. I am convicting them of not caring about making a good one.