FOCUS Add To My Top 10
A Liberal Indictment of Christian America?
Release Date: October 19, 2001
Audience: Older teenagers & adults
Runtime: 100 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Classics/Paramount
Director: Neal Slavin
Producer: Robert A. Miller & Michael R. Blomberg
Writer: Kendrew Lascelles
Address Comments To:David Dinerstein & Ruth Vitale
A Division of Paramount Pictures
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William H. Macy stars in FOCUS as a mild-mannered white collar worker, Lawrence Newman, who lives in a white neighborhood in New York City during World War II. He watches worryingly as some of his neighbors organize against the Jewish shop owner who’s moved into the corner store. Lawrence gets new glasses and comes home with a sexy, outspoken wife. Gertrude. The neighbors and strangers they meet begin to think the couple are really Jewish, even though they nominally belong to Christian denominations. When their home and lives are threatened, Lawrence and Gertrude must decide whether to take a stand against the American Anti-Semitism around them. The movie ends on a weird, symbolic note as Lawrence and Gertrude, in response to a policeman’s question, agree to say that they’re “one of them.”
FOCUS tells a well-acted tale of taking a courageous stand against evil. Macy and Dern are terrific as Lawrence and Gertrude, as is David Paymer and Michael Lee Aday (a.k.a. the pop singer “Meat Loaf”) as the Jewish shop owner and the Newmans’ next-door neighbor.
The story in FOCUS is a bit one-dimensional, however. For instance, most of its fascist villains are cardboard characters rather than real human beings. This is not just an aesthetic problem, however. It’s also a moral and theological problem, because the movie is plagued by an apparent liberal, pagan attitude that seems to be anti-Christian and anti-American. Thus, the only Christian preacher in FOCUS happens to be a rabidly Anti-Semitic Roman Catholic priest, and America seems to be awash with a virulent, cruel form of Anti-Semitism. In the end, the nominal Christian heroes in this piece seem to forego any identification whatsoever with Christianity, which leaves a very distasteful feeling within this Christian, who has nothing but respect, love and compassion for Jewish people.
FOCUS also is a very theatrical piece, which makes sense considering that the original novel on which it is based was written by Arthur Miller, who wrote the classic play DEATH OF A SALESMAN. Though photographed brilliantly, this theatrical quality undercuts the cinematic experience of watching FOCUS.
With a little effort, the filmmakers could have overcome all of these problems. Movies like FOCUS which try to deliver socio-political commentary work better if they make their targets less one-dimensional. Otherwise, they seem more like propaganda than great pieces of art.
FOCUS tells a well-acted tale of taking a courageous stand against evil. Macy and Dern are terrific as Lawrence and Gertrude. The story in FOCUS is a bit one-dimensional, however. For instance, its fascist villains are cardboard characters rather than real human beings. Worse, however, is the fact that the movie is plagued by an apparently liberal, pagan attitude that seems to be anti-Christian and anti-American.