Screened as part of NZIFF 2002

Focus 2001

Directed by Neal Slavin

USA In English
104 minutes 35mm



Robert A. Miller
Michael R. Bloomberg
Neal Slavin


Kendrew Lascelles. Based on the novel by Arthur Miller


Juan Ruiz-Anchia


Tariq Anwar


Mark Adler


William H. Macy (Lawrence Newman)
Laura Dern (Gertrude Hart)
David Paymer (Finkelstein)
Meat Loaf Aday (Fred)
Kay Hewtrey (Mrs Newman)
Michael Copeman (Carlson)
Kenneth Welsh (Father Crighton)


Toronto 2001


"A period piece set in a Brooklyn neighborhood near the end of World War II, Focus conveys the eerie claustrophobia and choked-back panic of an especially grim and creepy episode of The Twilight Zone. Its view of 1940s America is pointedly opposite from today’s prevailing gung-ho nostalgia about World War II. It pointedly reminds us that prejudice and xenophobia are the flip sides of unity and togetherness. 

The neighborhood of Focus is a street of cookie-cutter row houses with identical porches and garbage cans. But for all its comfy tidiness and the cheerful good mornings exchanged by the residents, the atmosphere is steeped in paranoia. A number of the men have fallen under the spell of Father Crighton, a demagogic radio commentator whose incendiary speeches use coded anti-Semitic language to blame the Jews for World War II… 

One of those who remain on the sidelines is Lawrence Newman, a polite, mild-mannered milquetoast who lives with his mother and has a job as a personnel manager. When Gertrude Hart, a sexy woman in a red dress, shows up for a job interview, Lawrence, without putting it into words, nervously brushes her off because she looks Jewish. (Ms Dern, in fact, doesn’t look at all stereotypically Jewish.) 

Before long Lawrence also finds himself the target of anti-Semitic discrimination when he buys a new pair of eyeglasses that people say make him look Jewish. Overnight, his boss’s attitude toward him changes. Demoted without explanation, he resigns in protest and sets about looking for a new job but is repeatedly turned away, until he runs across Gertrude, who has found secretarial work in a Jewish-owned business… 

The movie’s surreal style, with its film-noir camerawork and ominous lighting, turns the story into a fable about fear and nonconformism, and Mr Macy’s and Ms Dern’s carefully shaded caricatures match the mood. In his strong and scary portrayal of Lawrence’s friendly nextdoor neighbor Fred, a dedicated Union Crusader who turns increasingly chilly, Meat Loaf Aday is the embodiment of small-minded fear… 

Yes, the message is almost painfully familiar. And yes, Focus is about as subtle as a brickbat. But especially in the light of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks, which left this country’s innocent Muslims vulnerable to violence, it is a message worth repeating." — Stephen Holden, NY Times