Thursday, 7 July 2016

Film Review #89

Robot & Frank (2012)
Director: Jake Schreier Starring: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Peter Sarsgaard, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Rachael Ma, Jeremy Strong, Jeremy Sisto

Certificate: 12 Running Time: 89 Minutes

Tagline: "Friendship doesn't have an off switch."

There have been a load of films about robots over the years. Most of them feature scary examples equipped with advanced A.I. that usually rise up against their idiotic human oppressors and smack us all up. Robot & Frank, however, is a little bit different. It's the début feature for both director, Jake Schreier, and writer, Christopher D. Ford, it's set in the near future, and focuses on just the one human. Frank (Langella) is a retired cat-burglar - a retirement forced upon him by old age and a failing memory. His son Hunter (Marsden), an attorney with a family of his own, has grown tired of checking up on him, so rather than put him into care, he instead buys him a robot 'butler' to look after him, improve his diet, and get him into a routine to help his memory. Frank, of course, has other ideas and resents the thought of his new 'death machine' waiting for a chance to 'murder him in his sleep'. Chortle!

There is nothing malevolent about the nameless automaton though, and the poor old clanker does his best to help an unreceptive Frank who remains untrusting of him (or it?). He soon starts to change his mind, however, upon learning that (somehow) the robot has not been programmed to distinguish between legal and illegal activities. See if you can guess what brainwave this discovery leads to? That's right, it may mean an end to Frank's retirement! Further evidence of this comes when Frank starts teaching Robot to pick locks - something for which he demonstrates a strong aptitude - and it's not long before they're planning their first 'job' together, namely the theft of a rare book for Jennifer (Sarandon), the local librarian for whom Frank has the hots. Practise run complete, on to the first proper job!

It's certainly an interesting premise for what is technically a sci-fi film. Indeed, it makes a nice change to see some robots that aren't going crazy and trying to kill us or some such thing. The examples here are a fairly realistic interpretation of what we can expect in a couple of decades or so, I'd say, including the functional (and rather uncool) design, and their inevitable arrival will no doubt bring with it all sorts of moral and ethical dilemmas. Even Frank doesn't escape - his initial disdain for the robot (voiced by Sarsgaard and performed by Ma) and what it represents soon gives way to begrudging acceptance and, eventually, even something resembling actual affection. And who can blame him? Robot quickly proves himself to be a very helpful and surprisingly appealing fellow to have around the place.

As a film, I suppose I can see how some may find it a bit boring - the pacing is slow, and even the big heist is rendered virtually tension-free by way of being intermingled with its planning - but Langella is fantastic, showing everyone how apparently effortless an all-too-rare starring role is for him, and the rest of the small cast do fine jobs too, particularly Sarandon, Liv Tyler as Madison, Frank's daughter who objects to the robot even more then he initially does, and Jeremy Strong as an obnoxious property developer. I really haven't seen too many films I could compare to Robot & Frank but it is superbly written and produced, has a great central performance, and the end result is a touching meditation on aging, poignant-but-engaging, which, conversely, just gets better and better as it goes.

RKS Score: 8/10



  1. Amazed you found this gem, good fun and easy going. Worth a second watch...............

  2. It was on Netflix a while back. I think it still is actually. Have you seen it too then?