Director: Jake Schreier
Writer: Christopher D. Ford
Frank’s mind is starting to go. His daughter is off traveling the world and his son, Hunter, decides he can’t keep driving ten hour round trips to see him every weekend. He has kids of his own and he can’t let himself turn into the absent Father that he had growing up. So he does what any loving son would do leaves behind a VGC-60L caretaker robot with the explicit directive to keep Frank healthy and alive. Frank keeps telling everyone that he is fine and doesn’t need anyone’s help but the complaints fall on deaf ears. While Frank’s memory maybe not be too sharp in remembering his kids or where his house exactly is there is one activity that seems to turn on his mind; robbing people.
After doing two stints in jail totaling almost two decades Frank was forced into retirement but he doesn’t seem completely ready to let go of that aspect of his life. For most of his life he stole valuable jewelry, a second story man he called himself because that is where he snuck into most of the houses. Now Frank lives a quiet live in suburban New York. When Frank is not flirting with the local librarian, played by Susan Sarandon, he engages in acts of petty larceny at a local bath and beauty store. One day while out shopping the Robot unwittingly helps Frank lift a cat shaped bath bomb. Frank has a EUREKA! moment and takes on the Robot as his apprentice lock picker. The targets are the local yuppies moving into town that are planning on taking over his beloved library, turning it into an ironic community center for people too young to know a time when people gathered information from “printed materials”.
Robot & Frank is set in “The Near Future” but the world of the film is mostly similar to the one we are in now. Robots are commonplace and everyone has a Skype-like videophone in their house and pocket but it is not an unrecognizable future, just a natural evolution from our present. The subtlety of this future helps you accept the world as is without too many questions. There isn’t an elaborate text crawl explaining what is happening in the world, there are no politics behind it, the future of the movie is not a complicated otherworldly one as seen in Science-Fiction films such as I, Robot or Blade Runner, people just have see through smartphones and robots are as normal as pets.
Peter Sarsgaard voices the Robot, which is played in person by what appears to be a four-foot actor in a suit. Sarsgaard plays it somewhat close to the classic Hal 9000 voice, one that seems to be inescapable when it comes to robots in modern movies, but with more of a smile that the deadpan menace of the 2001 villain. The design of the character is sleek and simple and is definitely inspired by real life Japanese designed robots such as the ASIMO. The end credit sequence only drives this idea home further but showcasing real life present day robots completing many of the same tasks seen in the movie.
Frank Langella, a great actor who has been working for decades, plays the role of Frank almost effortlessly. Typically relegated to supporting roles in films such as Superman Returns and Good Night, and Good Luck., Langella plays Frank very gently and curmudgeonly but when he gets into the mindset of being a thief he comes to life. He looms large over most of the cast but becomes believable nimble during the heist sequences. The scenes highlighting his fight with Alzheimer’s are both wonderfully done and heart wrenching. He doesn’t play it big and dramatic, but instead much more down to earth. An all around wonderful performance filled with vibrant humor and subtle drama.
Robot & Frank is a pleasant surprise and a great addition to the fall movie season. While not as deep as it could have been it has a tremendous lead performance, a hilarious story, and ultimately bittersweet and touching finale. I am not alone in being let down by pretty much the whole blockbuster summer movie season. Movies like Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom, and now this are the kind of movies that give me hope. Robot & Frank is one of the more original films to be found in theatres right now and shouldn’t be missed.