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February 25, 2015 11:49 PM

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If a real-world con game has to be meticulously constructed in order to work, a movie about con games — like Focus — has to be even more meticulously constructed. As Focus's professional con-man "hero" Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) informs his new would-be protégé, Jess (Margot Robbie), a successful con is all about diverting the attention of the "mark," and this is true of a movie con and its audience as well. But the difference is that a movie audience knows a con is coming. It's more like a magic show: We're looking for the trick the whole time.

Complicating matters even further is that the filmmakers are ultimately going to explain the trick to you, in a way that makes you feel like you should have seen it coming. A con artist will do everything he can to keep you from figuring out how you just got fleeced; a con-artist movie had better pu...

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