Director: Jake Schreier.
Screenplay: Christopher D. Ford.
Starring: Frank Langella, Peter Sarsgaard (voice), Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Jeremy Sisto, Jeremy Strong, Bonnie Bentley, Dario Barosso.
“Robot & Frank” is the type of film that could, unfortunately, suffer a lot of preconceptions beforehand. Judging it by it’s cover or title, could lead to it being written off as some low-budget, ridiculous science-fiction film. If this does happen, then more fool those that do judge, as they’d be missing out on a marvellous human drama that has a great balance between humour and pathos.
In the near future, Frank is a retired cat burglar who lives alone, while his daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) is travelling the world and his son Hunter (James Marsden) is more focused on his career. Frank also happens to be going through the early stages of dementia, so in order to help him, Hunter buys him a robot caretaker, who will tend to his every need. Frank realises the potential in this, though, and plans to restart his old profession by using the robot as his aide to burgle more properties.
First off, this is a film about memories; the fading ones of it’s lead character and the expendable ones of an automaton. What makes it work, though, is the sensitive and convincing relationship at it’s core. There’s a genuine friendship that’s built between the characters and Christopher D. Ford’s screenplay takes time to touch upon the similarities between them. Robot is entirely reflective of Frank and they could be viewed as one and the same, while lightly skimming over the philosophical theories of Descartes’ cartesian doubt. Does the fact that Frank struggles to remember the past make him any less alive than the robot, who has no past? It’s this type of attention and delicate handling of the material that brings a genuine heart (and head) to the film. It’s an earnest portrait of Alzeihmer’s while also managing to incorporate some fun by it’s schematic caper sub-plot. It’s success is largely down to the strong and convincing actors; Langella delivers a fabulously nuanced performance of a man that once led a colourful life but now finds himself with a failing memory and refuses to accept it. He’s onscreen for almost the entirety of the movie, and throughout, he’s mostly talking to piece of tin. That piece of tin is also miraculously brought to life, though, with the gentle and perfectly fitting voice of Peter Sarsgaard. For this little character (who is never given a name) to win you over is a testament to everyone involved here. Director Jake Schreier handles the material beautifully – in his directorial debut – delivering a depth and profundity with touching family moments, memories reawakened and the importance of them in relation to what it means to be alive.
Although the film deals with a superficial automaton there’s a heart that lies within and that heart beats very strongly.
It’s early doors in 2013 but this is a film that I will fondly remember for the rest of the year and beyond.