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Non-Review Review: I, Tonya

I, Tonya is a biopic for the post-truth era. It is also brilliant.

The subject of I, Tonya will be casually familiar to most viewers, the figure skater Tonya Harding who was implicated in an attack on fellow figure skater Kerrigan. The incident was a flashpoint for the nascent twenty-four hour news cycle in the early nineties, although most people remember it as a warm-up for the O.J. Simpson case only shortly afterwards. As such, I, Tonya feels like the perfect window through which to examine the modern era’s obsessive celebrity-focused culture and the desire to turn our heroes into monsters for the audience’s viewing pleasure.

Putting her own spin on it.

I, Tonya is fascinating on that level alone. Its characters repeatedly break the fourth wall in an attempt to steer and control the narrative, but occasionally do so to indict the audience for their complicity. I, Tonya is a film that understands it cannot be about this media maelstrom without being part of this media maelstrom. There’s a canny knowingness to I, Tonya, an understanding that a movie about culture’s slipping grip on the idea of reality cannot be too earnest or too sincere.

I, Tonya repeatedly suggests that its story may stray into the realm of fantasy and fiction, but the movie still packs a real punch.

Get your skates on, mate.

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Non-Review Review: Focus

Focus is a fun old-fashioned heist movie that suffers from the lack of a central plot.

In some respects, Focus plays as a con itself. While movies about con artists are inevitably built around charismatic rogues and antiheroes, the stories practically structure themselves. Cons are visually interesting and dynamic, they are fun and exciting. Watching characters trying to out-wit one another in rapidly-escalating situations creates instant dramatic tension, and it is easy to see why the genre has remained popular. The beats are familiar – the “big one”, the “revenge con”, the “try to get alive game.”

Off the clock...

Off the clock…

Focus keeps teasing the audience with possible plot hooks that might sustain a two-hour film, diverting the audience’s focus and keeping them off-balance. “So what about the big con?” Margot Robbie’s Jess teases Will Smith’s Nicky. “You mean the one where we all make so much money we all retire?” Nicky teases back, dismissively. What makes Focus so interesting – and what also arguably prevents it from working as well as it might – is that it consciously plays against these recognisable elements. There is no big con, there is no story.

This is the long con that Focus plays – and plays very well. For all that it teases the plot-driven trappings of a caper movie, Focus is a good old-fashioned star-driven drama, a movie built around Will Smith’s movie icon charisma. It is one hell of a gamble, and one that doesn’t play off as well as it might, Focus‘ unwavering commitment provides a charm and energy that carries movie through. Offering advice to Jess, Nicky insists, “You never drop the con. Never break. Die with the lie.” It seems that Focus lives by its own words.

A star vehicle...

A star vehicle…

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