Lawrence Newman (William H. Macy) is a shortsighted suburban dork, living in a bigoted New York neighbourhood during the war. When the wave of anti-Semetic sentiment mistakenly dumps him out of a job and into the lap of a gorgeous blonde (Laura Dern) he finally gets to marry, to his invalid mumís delight. But life doesnít turn rosy for the newlyweds; his appearance suggests he is Jewish, and his neighbours are organising to get rid of Jews in their suburb. Physically if necessary.
Review by Louise Keller:
Insightful and thought provoking, Focus is a poignant film that canvasses vital issues pertaining to society. Although the film is set during World War 2, and the key issue is anti-Semitism, this story from Arthur Millerís novel could well refer to any relevant issue of any time. The houses all look the same Ė each with an orange brick face, veranda and a small patch of verdant lawn out the front. And the people who inhabit the houses are much like each other. They are motivated by hate and discrimination, and rally together behind the Union Crusaders, who use their strong arm tactics to terrorise the minority group. The central character, beautifully portrayed by William H. Macy, is everyman Ė an average man with an average job, who leads a dull and boring existence. He doesnít really feel as though he belongs, nor is he comfortable in his own skin. At the beginning of the film, he is a passive observer, but it is not until the end of his intense emotional journey, that he is able to stand up for himself and what he believes is right. Sometimes it is just too easy to close oneís eyes to the ugliness outside. But there are consequences Ė and conscience is one such consequence. When he is told that his new glasses make him look Jewish, Lawrence doesnít know how to react. The fact that he is short sighted, is of course, an allegory. It is outside his comfort zone, and Macy inhabits the character completely. Laura Dern is fresh and distinctive as Gertrude, while David Paymer adds credibility as the jewish corner shopkeeper. Michael Lee Aday (or Meatloaf, as he is now also known) gives a solid performance as Fred, the prejudiced neighbour, who hates behind closed doors and hides behind others. An authentic 1940-style Brooklyn neighbourhood has been beautifully recreated to offer striking production design, and first time director Neal Slavin has kept true to Millerís vision. Focus is a fascinating film, and can be enjoyed not only for its superb performances and authentic look, but as a pertinent reminder of our own moral obligations.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Lawrence Newman (Macy) is not only shortsighted in every way but naÔve to boot. He is the innocent who has to learn the hard way that staying silent and doing nothing in the face of evil (whatver its manifestation) is the worst thing good men can do. Arthur Millerís heartwrenching story has to be seen in the context of its creation amidst the post-war indignation at anti-Semitism in the US, which was almost as bad as in Nazi Germany. Just not officially condoned. ( I exaggerate only slightly. Remember, blacks were still derided by the nigger tag.) The great power of the work is that it opens up the notion of anti-Semitism and suggests that all isms are equal Ė equally driven by ignorance and stupidity. Such stupidity as to propagate the notion that only Jews/Niggers/Hispanics/Reds/Yellows . . . anyone other than whites, are untrustworthy liars, greedy, scheming and stealing wretches whoíd kill for a buck, fail to wash and rape helpless women. Someone to blame, really, for all thatís wrong with their life. Millerís words are loaded into the canon of cinema for Focus, and fired with all the energy of the filmmaking talents involved. And the assembled talent is indeed up to the task. Focus may have been written over 50 years ago, but, sadly, it has no use-by date.
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CAST: William H. Macy, Laura Dern, David Paymer, Meat Loaf Aday
PRODUCER: Robert A. Miller
DIRECTOR: Neal Slavin
SCRIPT: Kendrew Lascelles (novel by Arthur Miller)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Juan Ruiz-Anchia
EDITOR: Tariq Anwar
MUSIC: Mark Adler
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Vlasta Svoboda
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne: May 2, 2002; Sydney: July tba 2002