Robot & Frank (Movie) Review
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Not so much?
It’s extremely poignant but therein lays the brilliance of this film. It is very cleverly thought out and indeed thought-provoking; a sign of things to come perhaps, and how tragic it could be if we were to lose those memories…
Set in the ‘near future’, Robot & Frank is the rather charming story about Frank (played by the excellent Frank Langella), a former cat burglar struggling with worsening dementia in his old age who forms a bond with the robot his son has bought to look after him.
It’s a very sweet story and sensitively handled. Frank isn’t a particularly likeable character, the stereotypically grumpy, lonely old man; but the detriment of his memory loss is so achingly portrayed that it does pull at the heart strings of the audience and garners sympathy for him, but without being overly sentimental or manipulative.
Needless to say, Frank is reluctant at first to accept the robot as his helper because in doing so he feels that he will be conceding his independence and resigned to the fact that he is getting worse. However, after some verbal posturing and a battle of wills, Frank eventually forms a bond with his helper which strengthens when circumstances arise that enable him to rekindle his love for carrying out heists, this time with the robot’s help. By focusing on the intricacies of carrying out these heists and generally having some company, he begins to show signs of improvement in his health.
The initial heist takes place in the library that Frank loves so much but is distraught to see technology slowly but surely taking it over, with everything soon to become virtual and “the printed word” practically nonexistent.
This provides the metaphor for the whole film, the old versus the new: Frank desperately tries to cling onto his memory of all that he loved and knew whilst surrounded by increasing technological advances and change. It’s extremely poignant but therein lays the brilliance of this film. It is very cleverly thought out and indeed thought-provoking; a sign of things to come perhaps, and how tragic it could be if we were to lose those memories such as the joy of hiring an aged book from the library, for instance. The real tragedy comes when Frank has to face the dilemma of whether or not to erase the robot’s memory due to the risk of it being used as evidence against him; brilliantly symbolic of his own memory.
It really is a wonderful story although the film itself is not without its flaws. It certainly needed to be funnier and despite one or two laugh out loud moments, I felt it did get bogged down in its own poignancy which made it all a little depressing. An uneven final third also made it feel a little bit scrappy as well.
The performances were solid. Langella and James Marsden as his son were excellent. A brief appearance from Liv Tyler was perhaps a bit ill-judged and for some reason Jeremy Strong’s villain of the piece seemed to be channeling Giovanni Ribisi. As in the excellent Arbitrage, Susan Sarandon was unfortunately under-used. These were only minor gripes that didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the excellent story, though. Besides, the real star of the show was the robot itself. No CGI, just pure robotics and a joy to watch (the standard ‘Hal’ voice provided by Peter Sarsgaard).
Certainly not the most memorable film but recommended nonetheless.