Robot & Frank (2012)
Director: Jake Schreier
Writer: Christopher D. Ford
Starring: Frank Langella, Peter Saragaard, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Susan Sarandon
Country: United States
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Time: 89 minutes
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi
USA Release: 9/24/2012 (Limited)
On DVD (USA): 2/12/2013
Over the years there have been many films about robots, ranging from animated family films like 2008’s “WALL-E” to the “Terminator” series that tells of how robots are evil and will eventually kill everyone. But with “Robot & Frank” we get told a story of an unlikely friendship that strikes up between man and machine in the not too distant future. Along with it’s interesting premise and look of the near future, it features a great cast of top actors and actresses.
Ex-cat burglar Frank (Frank Langella) has been battling Dementia for a number of years, and while he considers himself to be fine, he is not. He breaks into and steals from his own home thinking it’s someone else’s, is convinced that an old restaurant he use to go to is still around, and thinks his son is still in college. At one of his son Hunter’s (James Marsden) weekly visits he surprises Frank with a robot companion (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) to take care of him like a live in nurse would so that he doesn’t have to come up as often and can spend time with his own kids. While initially Frank despises the robot, he soon warms up to it when he realizes the robot has no real understanding of stealing and that it’s consequences. So together the two of them plan a small heist to win the affection of the local librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon). But when people begin to suspect Frank, things begin to unravel and the only evidence left could destroy his only real friendship of late.
Stories of this nature are ones that usually fall by the wayside because the story is too cheesy or not fully developed, but with “Robot & Frank”, it delivers so much more than you would expect. While it too could have fallen victim to typical plot points or lack of balance, it instead delivers laughs, likability and a character study of aging and deteriorating mental disease. Debut screenwriter Christopher D. Ford, delivers a well calibrated balance of emotions throughout the film, and well rounded and fully developed characters. The story is set in the near future and while, it doesn’t look to different to what today looks like, it contributes its change to the same factors that have always been around, slight subtle changes in technology, smaller cars, slim sleek cell phones and TVs’ that can be used to video chat instead of using a home phone. All of these factors are very realistic as those are things we are starting to see happen today.
Another factor that Ford gives us to think about is libraries and how they may become obsolete (hopefully they won’t) one day. He also pokes fun at how yuppie hipsters are tying to use to library for the same function but without books. That subplot is also one that had me thinking that it was being set up for something much bigger as it is poked at in the script by Frank. But unfortunately it is one of the only things in the story that I found disappointing as it just gets pushed over and in the end maybe shouldn’t have even been mentioned, but luckily it doesn’t hurt the film too much. But it’s that sly and crafty script that keeps you wondering what might happen to Frank as he starts having urges to really steal again. Along with director Jake Schreier, the two of them create a world that’s much like today’s world, heavy technology but with very little change and the same problems. It’s still beautifully shot, having the setting take place in upstate New York, we get to have gorgeous exterior shots as Frank and later with Robot take walks in the woods. And much like you can see between to actors on screen, it is evident within the way the film effortlessly flows that this team of Ford and Schreier have great working chemistry.
While much of the film deals with just Robot and Frank, there are other memorable performances coming from the supporting cast. Susan Sarandon as Jennifer the librarian delivers the same charm you see throughout her body of work. You can tell she likes Frank, but is unsure what to do because of his forgetfulness due to his condition. James Marsden and Liv Tyler play Frank’s children Hunter and Madison and while the two are completely different personalities they both worry about their father. Hunter has been the sole person to watch after Frank because Madison’s job takes her out of the country very often. Both Marsden and Tyler give reasonably good performances because their isn’t a lot for them to work with being secondary characters. We see that they want to have a relationship with their father but because of his condition he sometimes doesn’t know who they are. And along with that they feel like they are sort of being abandoned again just like when Frank was in prison. Jeremy Strong plays Jake the sole yuppie that is looking to change the library into a community place with the same vibe just without books, he gives good performance as an adversary of Franks. While Jeremy Sisto does a ok job of playing the detective, he’s part is so small that nothing can really be said.
But of course it’s all about Robot and Frank, who might start off as enemies in Frank’s eye, but as the film progresses so does their relationship. Robot is voiced by Peter Saragaard with that computerized inflection that imitates HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey” all of which makes Frank’s hesitation and joking fear for his life kind of logical in it’s own way. Anyway Robot is there to give Frank a schedule and although Frank hates the wake up calls and restriction on his diet, like with anything, he gets use to it in repetition. But when Robot steals something and doesn’t know it was something wrong of him to do, it gives Frank the boast and excitement he needs in his life. While Saragaard may seem to have limitation to how he can preform, he delivers the right amount of sly humor and execution to make Robot an excellent and very lively character.
As for Frank Langella he has continued to show his brilliance and remarkable ability to transform himself into the likeness of any character he is playing weather it be physically, personality or both. In “Robot & Frank” he continues to educate us on how easy looking he can make his job be. Like the rest of the characters in the film, you are constantly wondering what is going on in Frank’s mind, is he in the past or in the present, and all of that makes him a very sly and possibly dangerous character. While some might have played Frank as totally lost, sloppy or overly charismatic, Langella just plays him completely straight. Playing it that way made the whole world of this story more realistic as it didn’t make Frank some super naturally cool person, he is just an ordinary guy that just likes to steal and has a talent for it, you not going to see him scale large buildings (although he might have when he was younger) or handle a weapon. Like Robot, Frank has he own wry sense of humor, and between the two of them they make a great pair not only for stealing but just in general as well. That chemistry also is found between Langella and Saragaard, and although they never actually share a face to face scene together, their charm that resonates deeply in these character and themselves finds it’s way to keep the film bright, scrappy and full of surprise.
Overall “Robot & Frank” is a gem that delivers an array of emotions. While the story at first glance may seem typical to some, it’s actually a very original piece of work. With the story moving along with quite and sly humor, we watch as a friendship begins to emerge between two unlikely people as they bond over stealing. Langella’s at the top of his game delivering another fantastic performance in this sneaky story with surprising twists.