- 1 hr 46 min
"Focus" is a thought-provoking and emotionally charged drama released in 2001, adapted from a 1945 novel of the same name by Arthur Miller. Set against the backdrop of the last days of World War II, the film delves into the insidious nature of anti-Semitism in America, exploring themes of identity, prejudice, and the pressure to conform to societal norms.
At the heart of the story is Lawrence 'Larry' Newman, poignantly portrayed by William H. Macy, an unassuming and quiet man who works as a personnel officer. Larry's life is relatively uneventful until he gets a new pair of glasses that inadvertently change his appearance, making him look Jewish to his bigoted neighbors and colleagues in a tight-knit community.
This case of mistaken identity triggers a cascade of events that upend Larry's formerly secure and mundane existence. Despite his efforts to clarify the misunderstanding, Larry finds himself increasingly marginalized and subjected to the prejudices and suspicions that were normally reserved for Jewish people at the time. His interactions with others become strained, as he is treated with a hostility that is both confusing and alarming to him, leading him to question his own identity and previously held beliefs.
In the midst of this turmoil, Larry forms a complex and touching relationship with Gertrude Hart, wonderfully played by Laura Dern. Gertrude is a forthright and strong-willed woman who also faces discrimination in her own life due to her refusal to fall in line with the narrow-minded attitudes of those around her. Together, Larry and Gertrude navigate the challenges of a society where fear and intolerance are rampant. Gertrude's character becomes a beacon of strength and sheds light on the importance of standing up against injustice, no matter how risky or challenging it may be.
David Paymer delivers a compelling performance as Larry's Jewish neighbor, who becomes an unlikely friend and ally as Larry's journey unfolds. Paymer's character provides a tangible connection to the very real prejudice that exists within their community, serving as both a driver of the plot and a moral compass for Larry.
The director, Neal Slavin, makes his feature debut with "Focus", and he cleverly uses a mix of visual and narrative techniques to draw the viewer into the era's climate of paranoia and discrimination. Every detail, from the vintage sets to the authentic costumes, contributes to transporting the audience back in time and providing a backdrop for the powerful story.
What makes "Focus" so gripping is not just its historical setting but also its relevance to contemporary issues of bigotry and racial profiling. The film prompts viewers to reflect on the dangers of stereotypes and the insidious effects of hate that can permeate even the most ordinary lives. It turns a mirror on society, asking uncomfortable questions about complicity and the courage it takes to defy wrongful societal pressures.
The cinematography, characterized by its muted color palette and careful framing, reinforces the themes of isolation and estrangement that Larry experiences as his life is turned upside down. The score also plays a critical role in establishing the film’s somber mood, emphasizing the gravity of the subject matter while still leaving room for moments of hope and redemption.
"Focus" is a nuanced exploration of the human condition, demonstrating how easily fear and ignorance can lead to pervasive injustice. It is a film that is as much about the geography of the heart as it is about the dangerous path a society can take when it allows prejudice to go unquestioned and unchecked. It is a narrative that resonates on a deeply personal level, forcing its audience to confront their own possible biases and the implications of their actions or inactions.
Throughout the film, performances by Macy, Dern, and Paymer bring the characters to life, each adding layers of complexity to their roles. The story evolves through their interactions, creating a rich tapestry of human connections and conflicts. Their portrayals are sensitive and nuanced, offering a look into the souls of people grappling with the weight of societal judgment and the redemption that can come from understanding and empathy.
Overall, "Focus" stands as both a stark reminder of a dark period in not-too-distant history and a timeless call to examine the roots of prejudice in our own times. By combining a compelling narrative, strong performances, and thoughtful direction, the film offers a sobering yet ultimately hopeful examination of the human spirit's capacity for change and the enduring fight for justice and dignity. It remains relevant today as a discussion point for the persistence of intolerance in modern society and the importance of individual responsibility in confronting and overcoming it.
Focus is a 2002 drama with a runtime of 1 hour and 46 minutes. It has received moderate reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.7 and a MetaScore of 53.