Director: Jake Schreier
Writer:Christopher D. Ford
Cast: Frank Langella, James Marsden, Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler, Peter Sarsgaard
Plot: Set in the near-future, Frank (Langella) is an old man who, along with his son (Marsden), daughter (Tyler) and friend (Sarandon), is slowly seeing his mind deteriorate. His son decides to buy a helper Robot for him which, to Frank initial annoyance, soon grows to become useful. Still thinking about his old profession as a cat burglar, Frank and Robot soon start planning new heists.
The sleek and sharp arrangement of a robot is not always pleasant to look at; the many movies based around that technology frequently corroborate this notion with aesthetics that are cold and uninviting. Think of I, Robot, A: I and even the children’s film Robots – the style-design and palette is regularly acerbic and dark. The more pleasant representations of robots such as Wall-e, Bicentennial Man and the new release, Robot & Frank, seem more agreeable partly due to the light hues. For instance, Robot & Frank includes an arboreal, cream and green set of features that add to the film’s warming atmosphere and intention.
The story of Frank, an old man struggling with Alzheimer’s whose concerned children try to help sounds like a bleak Mike Leigh film. Frank Langella plays the titular part of Frank with both audacity and gravity – becoming both an archetypal grumpy old man who grumbles and curses his way around, and a frightened, confused geriatric with a horrible disease. The idea of watching him in a run-of-the-mill drama would still suit as his performance is never far from captivating. What makes the film more enjoyable, and transforms it into something else entirely, is the eponymous robot. The conflicting realms of analogue and digital (Frank versus modern technology) are humorously highlighted throughout the film, never seeming trite or clichéd.
Christopher D. Ford’s script is relatively simple but completely engrossing once Robot enters Frank’s life; moments where the robot is switched off are noticeably dull. The conversations between Frank and Robot, and the latter’s general diction, indicate the writer’s knack for discourse and ability to create great characters. The film is supposed to be set in “the near future” and with dialogue that often seems unearthly, especially from Robot and the yuppie Jake, it feels as novel as its advertising itself to be.
Jake Schneider’s unassuming direction never makes it out to be a grandiose story of morals, weakness and love, but a down-to-earth appealing tale of friendship. The sub-plot of Frank’s occupation as a cat-burglar may take the regularity out of the ‘Old man with Robot helper’ narrative but does so in a delightful way. The heists that Frank embroils Robot into builds on their relationship to a point where it drifts into an obscure buddy-movie, nevertheless seeming so original that it doesn’t become irksome. The beauty of the film is that even when it feels to be somewhat unbelievable, it manages to stay grounded and less questionable.
The film’s humour and poignancy is never compromised by the sci-fi sub-genre and the film would be universally accessible were it not from some moderate harsh language. Overall, it never appears too drawn-out or convoluted and includes an array of wonderful performances. Robot & Frank is constructed very much like its lead robot – smart, sensitive and neat.
By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveforFilms