Frank Langella plays a retired jewel thief in the near future who is given the gift of a robot to help him around the house and keep him in line. However, instead of being a mere appliance it becomes a friend and partner to Frank, and proves to be as good a cook and cleaner as it is a thief. Is Robot & Frank a sweet and endearing tale of friendship or just another American indie with road trips and a guitar strumming filled soundtrack? Find out after the jump.
Frank (Langella) is a grumpy old man who lives alone and is incredibly forgetful (he appears to suffer from alzheimer’s, but it is never stated), especially with remembering to do chores such as cleaning the house. He has very few social interactions, with the exception of a friendly librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) whom he visits and flirts with on a regular basis. His children, Maddison (Liv Tyler) who lives on the other side of the world and Hunter (James Marsden) both worry about him, and his failing memory. In response to this, Hunter surprises him with a robot, to essentially keep Frank occupied as well as clean up the house and keep him healthy.
At first Frank is hesitant about trusting “a machine”, however he soon comes to learn what the robot is truly capable of. Frank was once a cat burglar, and he trains the robot to pick locks and the like, and makes him his partner in a series of robberies. While training the robot a beautiful friendship blossoms. Can Frank and the robot’s plan and friendship remain intact even with arising suspicion from the authorities, his kids and Jennifer? Will the robot stay loyal and keep their plans a secret even if he is a piece of technology instead of a person?
Who would’ve thought that one of the sweetest and most watchable friendships in any film so far this year would be that of Frank Langella and a robot voiced by Peter Skarsgard? There’s real chemistry between the two with Langella giving one of the best performances of his career; he’s grumpy & stubborn, but not once do we believe that he doesn’t have a heart or a capacity to love – now this is a character! The robot itself says a lot through dialogue rather than mannerisms, yet there are many dimensions in this robot, which acts more human character than other robots or even the most simple human characters found in the average drama or comedy these days.
The performances from Sarandon and Marsden are fantastic, especially from Sarandon, with the only real weak link being Liv Tyler’s character who at points she comes across as a whiny character rather than one who’s genuinely concerned. Robot & Frank is the feature-film directorial début of Jake Schreier, who nails the chemistry and silence shared between these two characters – it really contributes to the beauty of this story. The screenplay written by Christopher Ford is one to behold, this is how a plot and character development should operate with one another; original in its execution, yet sweet and endearing in its character portrayals and relationships.
In a day and age where crass humour and mean-spirited characters are continuously thrown at us, it’s more than a revelation to see a film as beautiful and sweet as Robot & Frank. This is a film that doesn’t ever rely on sap and cheese to be endearing, but rather a collection of genuinely well-intentioned characters in a film that tells a well-constructed and meaningful story.
I never would have guessed that a robot which resembles a high-tech kitchen appliance would be one of the most multi-layered characters on screen this year.
By Chris Elena
Director: Jake Schreier
Writer(s): Christopher Ford
Starring: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Peter Skarsgard, James Marsden, Liv Tyler
Runtime: 89 minutes
Release Date(s): Australia & New Zealand: November 15, 2012; USA: August 17, 2012 (limited).