Review: Robot & Frank
PLOT: In this futuristic tale, an ex-jewel thief is given a robot as a gift to help take care of his home and his health. While at first he wants to get rid of the computerized butler, he soon realizes that the machine would be very helpful at robbery. Along the way the robot and his owner become not only partners and thieves, but friends as well.
Science fiction is such a general term. Not everything has to be intergalactic battles or end of the world devastation. Sometimes it is nice to see a film like ROBOT AND FRANK, where the science fiction is simply a part of a realistic and recognizable world. The technology here is certainly advanced, yet the story itself is effectively more realistic than the typically doom and gloom filled genre.
Frank Langella stars as Frank, and he is unforgettable as an aging ex-thief who is having trouble remembering his daily life. His son Hunter (James Marsden) takes care of his father while sacrificing his own existence with his wife and children waiting at home. Franks daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) is a world traveler who doesnt seem to really understand the full responsibility of taking care of dear old dad. Frustrated, and in need of help, Hunter buys his father a robot butler (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard). Frank is at first disgusted with the machine and wants no part of it. That is until he realizes this gift may be of some use thanks to the robots indifference to stealing.
The beauty of ROBOT AND FRANK is the delicate way it examines these characters. Frank struggles with his memory of even the simplest of things. Yet it is not only his struggles that the film examines. For both Hunter and Madison, we witness their own frustration with their father and even each others treatment of him. When Madison finds that her dad has been given the robot, she is absolutely horrified that her brother seems to be pawning their dad off to a machine. Of course Hunter is only trying to help his father and take care of his family at the same time. As far as sci-fi goes, the human context of this story is very honest and touching.
The relationship between Frank and his new robot servant is a charismatic one. Sarsgaard is able to create a compelling character using only his voice, aided of course by the incredible design of the robot. The fact that Langella and Sarsgaard are able to form such a unique bond is very impressive. Their friendship is warm and sincere which carries the film quite a bit, even to its fairly predictable conclusion. Then there is Susan Sarandon as a librarian who holds feelings for Frank. He is seemingly the only customer that the library has, which is a perfect way to try and incorporate the romantic sub-plot. Yet, as good an actress as she is, she is given very little to do here aside from being a love interest for Langella. At least we have a man and his machine to give us some emotional depth.
Director Jake Schreiers futuristic feature film debut is an effective one. He uses the science fiction elements sparsely creating a very real world. This helps the believability factor, especially since the technology on display here doesnt seem very farfetched at all. The film runs a relatively short hour and a half which is surprisingly is one of the films weaknesses. When it gets to the third act, it seems so rushed that the emotional impact is a bit feeble Sure we care about Frank but the quirky nature and the short running time lighten the mood a little too much. However, maybe the goal was to avoid getting overly sentimental in the films conclusion. Perhaps this is the scripts fault, but either way it still offers an insightful view on growing old.
With its rushed last act slightly lessening the films impact, ROBOT AND FRANK remains a thoughtful and sweet movie with a message. The actors are all terrific and the score composed by the directors day job endeavor - music group Francis and the Lights - strikes an emotional chord. Yet the real heart of the film is the fantastic performance given by Langella. As terrific as he is, credit must be given to both he and Sarsgaard for giving such humanity and heart to their on-screen bond.