A friendship between an aging scoundrel and his emotionless helper robot may not seem like the most obvious pairing, but it’s precisely this connection that makes the latest release of Robot and Frank so refreshing.
The aging scoundrel in question is Frank, played with a delightful mixture of roguish charm and vulnerability by Frank Langella, who himself turned 75 years old in January.
Sometime in the near future – imagine voice-operated video conferencing via swanky wall-mounted plasma screens and robotic helpmates, rather than flying cars and super highways – Frank lives alone.
Concerned by his deteriorating mental health and the increasingly chaotic state of his house, his two grown up children, Hunter and Madison (James Spader and Liv Tyler), debate what to do best.
At first, they toy with the idea of putting their father into a nursing home, but then Hunter has a better idea. He gives Frank a gift: a walking, talking humanoid robot which is programmed to improve his physical and mental health.
Frank, however, is unimpressed. “That thing is going to murder me in my sleep,” he scoffs. Concerned for his stubborn owner, his Robot is keen to help – part nurse, companion and housekeeper, he dutifully and cheerfully (well, as cheerfully as he can, given that he is not a human) takes Frank through his daily routine: plate after plate of meticulously arranging steamed vegetables, invigorating walks through the local woods, gardening, trips into town and the occasional enema.
When Frank realises that his helper has both a knack for lock-picking and no pre-programmed moral code, his withering scorn is replaced by a renewed vigour for life – he finds himself rekindling a past love: cat-burglary.
Though jewel thieving is not strictly a part of his daily recommended schedule, Frank’s caretaker is quick to recognise the positive effects on him after planning his next “job”. Together, they start with targeting the local library before setting their sights on an expensive diamond necklace. But can they pull off this one, final, audacious heist?
Robot and Frank is a charming character drama whose central pairing of the cantankerous, sniping Frank along with his philosophical and gentle robot is made wholly believable by the excellent performances of Frank Langella and Peter Sarsgaard.
The film’s fundamental conflict, however, is not between man and technology, father and son, or a criminal and the law; it’s between man and the inescapable passage of time.
Thoughtful, unusual, humorous, and bolstered by Langella’s spirited central performance, Robot and Frank is equally successful as a quirky indie caper comedy and a quiet, understated reflection on age.
By Alaka Prodhan (@EchoingBronze)
Robot and Frank is released in UK cinemas on Friday 8th March 2013.
Watch the trailer here:
See it at the Odeon Printworks – book tickets online here
The Printworks, 27 Withy Grove, Manchester, M4 2BS