October 19, 2001
On the Big Board
||The chemistry is great even though the twists are ridiculous. The Double It scene is one of the best of the year. Adrian Martinez must have had the most fun during the movie.
In the waning days of World War II, a couple living in Brooklyn is wrongly identified as being Jewish by their anti-Semitic neighbors. Suddenly experiencing racial and religious persecution, they befriend a Jewish immigrant, and the resulting alliance help the three survive.
Focus is based on the novel by Arthur Miller, and is helmed by first-time feature director Neal Slavin, previously known for directing television commercials. World War II as subject matter is currently a hot topic, and the exploration of the effects of prejudice on both its victims and those who practice it offers opportunities for reflection and insight not always found in the cinema. Writing is the key to success for heavy drama, and while Arthur Miller is an avowed master of characterization and the revealing of human foibles, the screenwriter in this case, Kendrew Lascelles, is an actor with few credits and first-time scripter. Which puts the burden squarely on the actors to make the film work. Fortunately, the film stars Meat Loaf, Laura Dern and William H. Macy, all of who are capable of turning in superlative performances when working with difficult subject matter.
Heavy drama requires support from the studio to be successful, and good reviews and word-of-mouth are also essential; an effective trailer will help, too. There's a lot of potential here on paper; how much of that potential is realized will have a great bearing on the film's ultimate box office success. (Calvin Trager/BOP)