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Lawrence Newman has a problem. The personnel director for a company in World War II-era New York City, middle-aged mama’s boy Lawrence (William H. Macy) can’t see very well. When he finally accepts his boss’s advice and purchases glasses, however, his plight only gets worse. The glasses make Lawrence look Jewish, his mother informs him, and apparently she’s right: In no time at all, Lawrence finds himself demoted because he doesn’t “make the right impression,” harassed by bigoted longtime next-door neighbor Fred (Marvin Lee Aday, aka Meat Loaf), and forced to ally with “the Yid on the corner,” newsstand owner Finkelstein (David Paymer, last seen playing an arguably anti-Semitic role in David Mamet’s State and Main). The only good news is mousy Lawrence’s unlikely new flame, the brassy Gertrude (Laura Dern), a professed Episcopalian who’s also been typed as Jewish. Lawrence doesn’t like to make trouble, take sides, or get involved, so you might think that an easy solution would occur to him: Lose the glasses. That doesn’t happen in Focus, however, because it’s an earnest, didactic parable based on a 1945 novel by the earnest, didactic Arthur Miller. Director Neal Slavin, a successful commercial photographer making his feature directing debut, read Miller’s book as a student in the ’60s and was struck by its relevance. Yet he’s made a predictable and even prissy movie in the tradition of ’50s problem dramas. The film’s stuffiness fits Macy, who looks as if he had been born wearing a baggy suit, as well as the curiously old-fashioned Dern, but it doesn’t measure up to contemporary events. Even at a time when a certain brand of anti-minority violence is on the rise in the United States, Focus seems entirely a period piece. —Mark Jenkins