Tim here. Tomorrow sees the release of Focus, a romantic drama about two con artists, played by Will Smith and Margot Robbie. Time will tell if it finds its audience – the critics are steadfastly ambivalent – but I would at least argue on its behalf, sight-unseen, that it's already gotten at least one thing right. There's a slick likeability to any generally good con artist picture, which openly confess to the thing that most movies try to hide at least somewhat: the reason we watch them is to be told enthralling lies. We go to the movies in the specific hope of being conned, and never more so than in the case of romances, which in Hollywood's view are games of people trying to trick other people into falling in love with them, while tricking us into believing that all these contrivances are true and meaningful instead of just skilled craftsmanship. I'm hoping against hope that Focus ends up being really great.
While we wait to find out, I'd like to take you back in time to the last great con artist love story (if we skip over American Hustle, which has other goals in mind), the wantonly under-appreciated Duplicity from 2009. It was writer-director Tony Gilroy's follow-up to his Oscar-nominated Michael Clayton, transposing that film's world of corporate espionage and skullduggery into the frame of a fizzy romantic comedy. It was also the second film to pair Julia Roberts and Clive Owen as a pair of sniping lovers after the acidic "everybody hates everybody" drama Closer. And Duplicity tanked, and was widely unloved, and even six years later, those facts still break my heart a little bit.