Though the title may suggest otherwise, Robot And Frank is no science fiction movie.
Though the action does take place in the future and robots ARE involved, this is in effect a buddy caper movie where our straight man is a robot. Frank Langella is in fine form as the titular Frank, an older man with a colourful past, estranged from his family and friends who is given a robot to help him with his daily chores.
Though the cast does boast appearances from Liv Tyler, James Marsden and Susan Sarandon, the central role of Frank is the key draw, even the robot (equal parts CGI and short person in a suit) which takes precedence in the title isn’t the focus of the feature. Langella’s performance as an aging cat burglar struggling with his failing memory is magnetic. Though many actors of Langella’s age and calibre have moved into roles involving the portrayal of Alzheimers or memory loss, Langella brings a warmth and humour to the role and its requirements. The motif of one last con for an ex-con is common in cinema but Robot And Frank adds an extra dimension to the age old story.
The performances of the supporting cast all seem somewhat phoned in, the majority of their conversation stake place over video phone and you can imagine Liv Tyler just deciding to put up a green sheet in her garage and playing the role from there. They don’t really add anything to the film and its effect.
Director Jake Schreier uses his minimal budget to great effect, ensuring that the central relationship is the star attraction. Though the film is set in the future, the setting avoids cities and major towns and as such ensures that no very innovative technology needs to be shown, no hover bikes or teleporters. The technology that is shown, voice activated video phones, huge flat tv screens etc are all palpable and available today. Schreier simply evolves the technology we have today, even Robot looks as though he was modelled on Honda’s Asimo model.
Themes of aging and technology are as prominent as you would expect them to be, a sub plot about the closure of a Library makes for some of Frank’s best one liners. Though his voice over was recorded well after the film was finished, Peter Sarsgaard’s voice for the robot is fantastic. With shades of Kevin Spacey’s Gertie in Moon, his intonation and unflinching optimism make the robot a wonderful source for comedy.
Robot And Frank is an affecting and charming drama with a great central performance from Frank Langella, the starrier additions to the cast are simply window dressing for the friendship that forms between one man and his bot. All in all, Robot And Frank is engaging viewing with a graceful undertone of politics looking at how we respect our elders.
7 out of 10