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Focus (2001)
Rated PG13

Starring: William H. Macy, Laura Dern, and Meat Loaf Aday

Rating:
**1/2
out of
*****

William H. Macy is one of the finest character actors acting onscreen today. Focus, a little-seen indie adaptation of Arthur Miller's book, showcases Macy's talent while providing an eye-opening look at a dark chapter in the U.S. history. Unfortunately, it's not a movie that is easy to recommend.

Near the end of World War II, Lawrence Newman (Macy) is a hard-working personnel director for a business. He's been so wrapped up in work and caring for his wheelchair-bound mother that he's never really done anything else during his adult life. Now, just past 40 years old, Lawrence finds his world turned upside down by the simple act of getting a pair of glasses.

Suddenly, he's mistaken for being Jewish. His employers treat him differently and his neighbors, who belong to an anti-Semite organization known as the "Union Crusaders," begin to apply pressure on him. Lawrence, who's been so busy concentrating on his work for twenty years, is forced to look at how simply being a different religion or race can completely alter the number of opportunities for freedom in a supposedly free country.

While the acting in Focus is particularly top-notch -- especially Macy and a surprising Meat Loaf Aday as Fred, the leader of the Union Crusaders -- the movie is rather (pardon the pun) unfocused. Are viewers supposed to feel sorry for Lawrence and his wife Gertrude (Laura Dern) because they're seen as something they're not and are persecuted for it? Or are viewers supposed to be outraged because the this kind of prejudice exists? The film throws out a lot of atmospheric imagery and creates a claustrophobic world for its characters to inhabit but it also manages to suffocate the viewer in the process.

While Focus does shed light on a subject that definitely needs the attention, the film itself provides little more than kindling for what could have been an explosive look at a dark side of America's history.

Trivia: Kay Hawtrey, who plays Lawrence's mother, also played the library attendant in Urban Legend. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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