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1 rating: 5.0
A movie directed by Neal Slavin

Set during World War II, FOCUS is based on Arthur Miller's first published novel. It is the story of Lawrence Newman (William H. Macy), a man who has settled into a relatively anonymous life. He lives with his mother, has held the same job for twenty … see full wiki

Director: Neal Slavin
Release Date: 2001
MPAA Rating: PG-13
1 review about Focus

Focus - 2001

  • Nov 7, 2008
Pros: All the actors, the incredible story

Cons: ...

The Bottom Line:
"Said its mighty strange, without a doubt,
Nobody knows you when you're down and out"
~Eric Clapton

This was a somewhat disturbing movie to watch.  Not because of blood and gore or anything like that but, rather, because it brought forth the lowest of human traits, bigotry.  It is centered around the ending of WWII, in a small neighborhood in NY.   The movie is called Focus, a word that has many interpretations in the story.

Before I go any further into the story I just want to say:  "William H. Macy scores again!  Seriously, his agent must have one hell of a contract for Macy, cause he always gets the hot chick in his movies.  Score yet another one for Macy."  But on to the movie ...

Macy plays the part of Larry Newman, an unassuming little man, working as the guy that does the hiring and firing at a small company.  He lives at home with his ailing mother, in a row of brownstones, in a closely knit neighborhood.  On the corner is a small newsstand and deli but it is run by ‘one of those people'.  You know the ones, the Jews.  Taking over the neighborhood, why before you know it they will be moving in, destroying everything.  You know how that talk goes, in those small cliques.  It is especially prominent with his neighbor, who he shares a porch with, Fred. 

At work, he finds some of the same prejudice, as his boss tells him he must need glasses because he hired ‘one of them', a Mrs. Goldfarb of some such.  In fact, everyone tells him he needs glasses, as he squints his way through his day.  Since he had to fire her, now he must fill her position and in strolls Gertrude Hart.  Sassy and saucy, that is how you'd describe her.  Of course, he immediately assumes she is Jewish, and turns her down for the job, despite the fact that she comes right out and says she is not.  Things sure were different then, weren't they?

So Larry takes the plunge, buying those glasses.   His mother is the first to comment "They make you look Jewish", and it goes downhill from there.  His boss plans to remove him from the position he has held for 18 years, just because he doesn't present the look they want at the front desk.  They don't come out and say anything, but you can see ‘those thoughts' brewing in their heads.  Even though they know his religious background.

Larry quits his job, going off in a huff.  Now, however, he is on the other side of the desk, and he sees the things that he put other people through.  Even though several firms have a definite need for a man of his background, they refuse to hire him because they believe he is Jewish.  Finally, down on his luck, he tries a small firm and lo and behold, who is the secretary there but Gertrude Hart.  Small circles, it never fails to amaze me. 

Meanwhile, back in the neighborhood, things are heating up.  A woman, Puerto Rican, is raped and assaulted, dumped outside a hospital.  Larry has witnessed part of this assault from his bedroom window, but says nothing.  After all, the guys in the neighborhood say it was all in good fun, and besides, she's Puerto Rican so it doesn't really matter.  Now she is in a coma, verging on death.  Still Larry keeps quiet.  Then things start happening to Mr. Finkelstein, the newsman.  Larry remains silent.  In fact, it never occurs to him to speak up at all until he marries and brings home Gertrude, and things start happening to him as well.

So the basic idea of the story is how we all remain insular, keeping quiet, keeping to ourselves.  Until it affects us, that is.  It is also about bigotry and hatred, fear of something you don't understand and don't want to understand.  And it appears things haven't changed all that much, have they?

This was a wonderful piece of work adapted from a novel by Arthur Miller by Kendrew Lascelles. It was directed by Neal Slavin.   It is rated PG-13 for thematic content, violence and sexual content.    It was nominated for 5 awards, winning two.  Overall, it is an ugly little movie that shows the true nature of the beast, man.

The main players were William H. Macy as Larry Newman.  As usual, he gave an outstanding performance.  Very heartfelt, quiet, and soulful.  His love interest this time around was Laura Dern as Gertrude Hart.  You just gotta see her in that fire engine red dress, packs quite a wallop.  David Paymer was Mr. Finkelstein and, of all people, Meat Loaf was neighbor Fred.  Didn't recognize him one bit.  Take him off the singing stage and slap a button up shirt on him, grease back the hair, a completely different man.  I will say I was highly surprised and satisfied with his work in this movie. 

On the extras on the DVD, there was the usual feature showing how the movie was made along with interviews by many involved.  It was very interesting to hear their thoughts about the hatred shown in the movie, the distrust.  There was a nice piece with Arthur Miller as well as director Neal Slavin.  The entire feature really added a dimension to the film.  There were also deleted scenes and commentary, but I didn't use either of those features.

As difficult as this was to watch, it is even more harrowing to think these feelings still reside today.  Things haven't changed all that much.  The only thing that has changed is the focus of the bigotry, different groups for different times. 


This movie is my submission to the Good Movies Write-Off 2, hosted by captaind


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