Focus

"Very Good"

Focus Review


Any movie starring William H. Macy, Laura Dern, and David Paymer is going to be good, even if the three were working from an old sitcom pilot. And you throw Arthur Miller into the mix? It can't miss, one would think. Alas, although Focus, based on Miller's novel, is frequently thought-provoking and well acted, it's not the success it should be.

The central character is Lawrence Newman (Macy), a businessman who's thriving in WWII Brooklyn. He has his own house, a fine job and good standing in the community. And in an environment of increasing anti-Jewish sentiment, he's Gentile.

And he fits the appearance, until he gets a new pair of glasses. In the eyes of many, Newman now looks Jewish, which begins to effect his life. He gets demoted at work, which leads him to quit and on a series of go-nowhere job interviews. The neighbors look at him funny, especially when he's not as boisterous about their effort to clean up the neighborhood of the Jewish element.

The pressure of living in a cookie-cutter world is portrayed with stunning clarity by director/producer Neal Slavin (in his feature directorial debut). A big billboard featuring a happy, well-dressed family dominates Newman's neighborhood, and his first interviewer looks like a game show host, an ominous sign of his troubles to come. The neighborhood alternates between being sunny and smothered in dense darkness -- the lack of variety is stifling. The men even water the grass at the same time.

Of course, no one else wears glasses either. Then again, they don't see the downside of a utopia. Diversity will not be tolerated, and Newman, as much as he hates it, doesn't fit in. The time for being quiet and complacent is over. He either has to join with his neighbors or see things differently, with the help of his local Jewish newsstand owner (Paymer).

It's this kind of coiled-spring, intellectual tension that makes any Miller production a thrill to sit through. Unfortunately, the movie veers from that path continually, starting with Newman's marriage to Gertrude (Dern), a woman he didn't hire because she looked Jewish. There's an absurdly long courtship scene that seems lifted from a different movie, and Dern's character doesn't add much to Newman's predicament, except filling him in on the Christian Coalition and advising him to either move out or join his neighbors. She's more of a football coach than another voice in Newman's strange new world.

Focus also can't maintain the mystery of Newman's hell. He gets beaten by a band of Jew-hating toughs and attendees of an aggressive Christian group meeting, which ruins the movie's portrayal of a cerebral hell and distrustful American society. After seeing Newman endure so much, the violent acts seem that much more unnecessary. We get the point, especially when the movie also deals with an unreported neighborhood rape of a Puerto Rican woman and with Newman's dream of a freakish carousel.

Though dramatically effective, another reason why Focus falls a bit short is that the material feels too familiar. In my favorite Miller plays (such as All My Sons), a character and his principles are put to the test against what is best for the status quo. Focus offers the same predicament, but with little of the eye-opening sociological subtext that made the film version of The Crucible so damned riveting. The Salem witch trials were Miller's protest against blacklisting, but in the 1990s it became a scathing portrayal of America's fascination with sordid legal cases.

In the case of Focus, the contemporary relevance doesn't seem so sharp. Yes, intolerance existed then and now. But that's been preached in the mass media for years, so seeing it again really has a limited effect. In a politically correct world that never lets us forget about anyone's setback, it's awfully tough to make that message worth listening to again.

Down on the corner and out.



Focus

Facts and Figures

Run time: 106 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 2nd May 2002

Distributed by: Paramount Classics

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 56%
Fresh: 45 Rotten: 36

IMDB: 6.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: , Robert A. Miller

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Dunkirk Movie Review

Dunkirk Movie Review

Britain's epic 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk has been dramatised on film before, but no one...

Killing Ground Movie Review

Killing Ground Movie Review

From Australia, this dark and edgy thriller is skilfully made by writer-director Damien Power to...

City of Ghosts Movie Review

City of Ghosts Movie Review

This award-winning documentary plays like a thriller as it traces the work of a group...

Cars 3 Movie Review

Cars 3 Movie Review

It's been six years since the last Cars movie (there were two Planes movies in...

The Beguiled Movie Review

The Beguiled Movie Review

In her inimitable loose style, Sofia Coppola remakes the 1971 Clint Eastwood movie from a...

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

The surprisingly thoughtful prequel trilogy comes to a powerful conclusion with this robust, dramatic thriller,...

It Comes At Night Movie Review

It Comes At Night Movie Review

This sharply original horror film not only approaches its premise from an unexpected angle, but...

Advertisement
Okja Movie Review

Okja Movie Review

As Tilda Swinton reteams with her Snowpiercer director, Korea's Bong Joon Ho, it's perhaps unsurprising...

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

This may be the third reboot of this franchise in 15 years, risking audience exhaustion,...

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Actually the fourth film in the series (don't forget the prequel Minions), this animated super-villain...

Baby Driver Movie Review

Baby Driver Movie Review

Wildly energetic and so cool it hurts, this action movie has been put together in...

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

There's a clear sense that this Tupac Shakur biopic is hoping to build on the...

Hampstead Movie Review

Hampstead Movie Review

Deliberately appealing to older audiences, this undemanding comedy-drama comes with a hint of social relevance...

The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry Movie Review

Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.