Directed by Neal Slavin
Written by Kendrew Lascelles
Starring William H. Macy, Laura Dern



"Focus" is a terrible movie. Even worse, it is the kind of terrible movie that only the most dedicated, morally and politically correct filmmakers could make. It was adapted from an early novel by Arthur Miller, written for the screen by Kendrew Lascelles and directed by Neal Slavin, all of whom no doubt thought they were doing the Lord's work. It is set in a Brooklyn of the mind, in 1943. The war is on, in case you'd forgotten, and Lawrence Newman (William H. Macy), a Presbyterian, lives with his mother on a quiet residential street with Finkelstein's Jewish candy store and newsstand at the corner. Why do I say Jewish? Because this film is about anti-Semitism. Why do I say Presbyterian? Because one day, when Lawrence gets new glasses, somebody thinks he now looks Jewish, and from looking Jewish to being accused of actually being Jewish is apparently a very small step, which his very Christian, very bigoted neighbors are only too eager to do. They are eager listeners to a Father Coughlin-type radio personality, willing anti-Semites who want to save America from all the Jewish Communists who are about to overrun the country.

So poor Lawrence loses the job he's held for twenty years, finally goes to work for a Jewish company in New Jersey, and meets Gertrude (Laura Dern), the woman of his dreams, who he had refused to hire earlier because she herself looked Jewish. (But she's not, so there's no question of intermarriage.) Where were we? Oh the Father Coughlin mob. You know, the Detroit priest who used his national radio show to exhort good Americans against Jews, blacks and liberals. Except that here, in one of the film's many copouts, he isn't even called by his real name, nor is his organization of fascist goons either. So what we have in "Focus" is a pretend movie about pretend anti-Semitism in America, so panicked of offending that it is afraid even to use real names. Does that show courage?

This film asks many questions: Will Lawrence find the courage to stand up to his neighbors? Will he and Finkelstein stave off the mob (of three)? Will Gertrude - whose checkered past includes having lived for two years in Los Angeles with a dog groomer who is a high-up commander in the priest's army, I kid you not - find her courage as well, and help Lawrence stave off the bad guys? While you are answering those questions, you will have plenty of time to wonder when, or if, this film will ever end. The script is nothing but high-school theatre dialogue, earnestly spoken by everyone in turn. There isn't a moment of real feeling or even casual conversation in it, and the direction is amateurish in the extreme.

Now I happen to love Laura Dern, but she should really think about getting another agent. Her present one must belong to that fascist group, or else why would he put her in this film?