Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Focus

Even as the country fought the Nazis in WWII, anti-Semitism, both subtle and otherwise, still found fertile ground in the U.S. That's a sad, easy-to-confirm irony of history. So how is it that Focus makes it feel like such an overly convenient dramatic contrivance? Adapting a 1945 novel by Arthur Miller, Focus takes place in a version of New York in which virtually every man, woman, and child seems to be thinking anti-Semitic thoughts at all times. When anonymous office supervisor William H. Macy reluctantly purchases a pair of glasses, he unexpectedly finds himself the subject of this obsession: Though he's not Jewish, everyone around him believes his new eyewear makes him appear as such. (In fact, the glasses make him look uncannily like T.S. Eliot, but that setup would lend itself to a different sort of movie.) This premise places Focus firmly in the realm of absurdist black comedy, and as such, it might have worked. Instead, Neil Slavin, a commercial veteran making his feature debut, plays it far straighter, letting only his noirish lighting suggest any exaggeration. More often, it reveals the simplicity of the film's black-and-white universe. Only the fact that Macy and new wife Laura Dern share in some of their neighbors' prejudices lends Focus a hint of moral ambiguity; otherwise, the film plays it as if they were the last two characters standing at the end of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Though stylistically aggressive and a welcome, if ill-fitting, showcase for Macy's acting, Focus only comes alive during his heated exchanges with Jewish shopkeeper/moral conscience David Paymer. Focus is an agonizingly protracted sketch of a clear-cut moral dilemma, buried in a past that Slavin fails to connect to the present. As an indictment of WWII-era prejudice, Focus pulls no punches, but so what?

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