Saturday, 9 March 2013

[REVIEW] - Robot & Frank

Frank Langella and robot Robot and Frank

Director: Jake Schreier
Starring: Frank Langella, Liv Tyler, James Marsden, Susan Sarandon
Certificate: 12A
Run-time: 89 minutes

IN SHORT: Short and sweet. Robot & Frank is a little gem with an earnest performance from Frank Langella.


I've spoken before about the bad cinema choices I've made in the past (choosing Silent Hill Revelations instead of The Master wasn't my finest achievement) and this weekend I again found myself in a quandary. Do I see Oz the Great and Powerful, a film that looks visually stunning but doesn't really excite me? Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh's last film before his switch to television? Or take a punt on something a little different with Robot & Frank? I ended up seeing the latter and I'm glad I did as this is the type of under-the-radar film that I'd usually miss. Robot & Frank may not have the big-budget visuals of Oz or the twists and turns of Side Effects but it's a charming little tale effectively told.

Frank (Frank Langella) is a former jewellery thief who's succumbing to the harsh realities of old age. His son Hunter (James Marsden) visits him every week and watches as his father's memory and health worsen. With Frank too proud to ask for help, Hunter decides to buy him a robot to assist with chores around the house. At first Frank is offended by this new presence, he's doing fine as far as he's concerned. However, when he discovers the robot can't distinguish between right and wrong, Frank spots an opportunity. He teaches the robot some tricks of his former trade, most importantly lock-picking, in preparation for a series of burglaries in his local neighbourhood.

Frank Langella dining table Robot and Frank
Robot agrees to help Frank with the crimes if Frank maintains a low-sodium, low-fat diet.

Robot & Frank is a feature-length debut for director Jake Schreier and it's a promising start to his career. Schreier doesn't complicate the movie with unnecessary visuals or trade-marks, he just lets the story develop. Because that is the strength of the film - the writing. Christopher Ford's script never hits a false note, finely balancing deadpan comedy and poignant drama as this lonely, forgetful old man begins to form a friendship with his robotic aid and criminal accomplice. Ford's script is effortlessly endearing and real, the perfect vehicle for seasoned pro's like Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon to show off their acting chops.

Although the film is fairly short, clocking in just shy of 90 minutes, it's a rich and rewarding experience. Robot & Frank may appear to be a simplistic film but Ford subtly  explores themes of old age, fear of technology and maybe most importantly, our over-reliance on technology. Frank, a stubborn and grumpy old man who was so opposed to his robot helper, finds himself increasingly dependent on it. Even calling the robot his friend. And when the time comes to wipe the robot's memory in order to hide evidence of his crimes, Frank can't bring himself to do it. 


Susan Sarandon and Frank Langella film
Frank's only other friend is Jennifer, the local librarian, played by Sarandon.
Frank Langella's lead performance is a joy. His portrayal of dementia/Alzheimer's (the film never puts a name to his illness) isn't soppy or over-the-top but instead respectful and (I imagine) accurate. Due to the mental state of the character, Langella is asked to convey many different emotions and sometimes he appears to be entirely different people. One day he's sharp and out-witting those around him, the next day, he doesn't even remember his son's name. James Marsden, Liv Tyler and Susan Sarandon round off the cast with understated but effective performances.
All-in-all, Robot & Frank is a well-told dramedy that will raise a few smiles and warm your heart. My only criticism is that there's a pretty major revelation in the final act that, although well-masked, didn't pack enough of an emotional punch. It's a revelation that could've brought tears to my eyes but instead just left a lump in the throat. Despite that, Robot & Frank is a sweet little indie drama that I'd recommend to fans of similar character-driven films such as The Station Agent, Lost In Translation and Win Win.

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