Opens Fri Nov 16
There is a mantra within the film community, necessary to maintaining the "magic of Hollywood," known as the "suspension of disbelief." This state of being is crucial to the enjoyment of Focus, director Neil Slavin's adaptation of Arthur Miller's novel. The basic premise of the plot is that William H. Macy's character, Lawrence Newman, an everyman of sorts, gets a pair of glasses that make him look really Jewish. Since the setting is New York during WWII, where Anti-Semitic sentiment is gathering speed, the new specs prove remarkably troublesome.
And this is where the suspension must happen, where we do not spend the first half of the movie snickering about the silliness of this idea. The situation escalates as Lawrence is forced to endure the prejudice of Anti-Semites, regardless of the fact that he's 100 percent Presbyterian. (It's the glasses.) People who have known him for years are suddenly suspicious, whipped up in a cultural struggle so ill defined that the perpetrators can't even figure out who they're picking on. (Especially his asshole neighbor--played by Meatloaf!)
It doesn't improve matters when Lawrence meets and marries a woman who is also afflicted with a misleadingly Jewish look. Again, suspend. Also, here's where it gets sticky. If you subscribe to the school of thought that maintains that William H. Macy and Laura Dern are both super weird looking, then you'll get major willies watching them as giddy, insatiable newlyweds. A particular scene involving a foreplay "fashion show" almost made me chew off my hands.
The film's release is remarkably well timed, considering the present state of race relations and the extent to which this trivial cosmetic modification escalates into violence and hatred. This film may well serve as a warning, ridiculous as it seems. Anybody familiar with WWII propaganda, for instance, knows the extent to which racial profiling can spiral down the fantastical cosmos of bullshit. Without topical politics in the background, however, it would be hard to take this film as seriously as it wants you to. The ending is confusing and anticlimactic, a curious resolution to the murky moral issues the film raises.