Frank's last heist.
|Movie Review: Robot and Frank
Robot and Frank (2012)
PG13 1hr 29min
Director: Jake Schreier
Writer: Christopher Ford (screenplay)
Not everyone will like Robot and Frank. It is quiet, has no frantic action, car chases or explosions, no guns or killing. If you are tired of all that, this may be the movie for you. It concerns an old man, Frank (Frank Langella), suffering from the onset of dementia, and a robot given to him by his son, Hunter (James Marsden). Frank’s relationship to the robot is at the core of the story and the relationship’s development from rejection to acceptance to friendship is the unlikely but intriguing force behind the story.
Frank Langella is brilliant as the old man, portraying just the right mixture of worldly wisdom and confusion at his occasional memory lapses. The perfect foil to this is Peter Sarsgaard’s performance as the voice of the robot. His accuracy in showing us the innocence and forbearance of the programmed machine is wonderful. Frank’s use of these qualities is cynical but so intelligent that the viewer warms to both of them. The scene in which he realises that the robot’s ethical programming is easily circumvented is very revealing of Frank’s genius as a “second-storey man”, whose task is to find the way into an impenetrable place.
It becomes apparent that Frank is a retired jewel thief and he realises that the robot can be his accomplice in a final and glorious caper. He trains the robot to pick locks and plans a raid on the town library. This is chosen as the target because Frank resents its ongoing modernisation. He decides to steal the library’s most valuable possession, an original copy of Cervantes’ Don Quixote.
The successful burglary, theft of the book and Frank’s resultant struggles to stay ahead of the law (with assistance from the robot) lead to an ending to the movie both sad and uplifting. If you cry easily at movies, remember to bring a supply of tissues to this one.
Susan Sarandon’s performance as the librarian must be mentioned too. The part is pivotal and is played with great subtlety and skill by Sarandon. Frank has a soft spot for her and his choice of the library, both as a place to visit daily and as the target of his efforts with the robot, is bound up with the dramatic conclusion to the movie.
Also worth mentioning is the music to the movie. It is so subtle that I did not really notice it until having watched the movie several times. This, surely, must be evidence of the effectiveness of a movie's score, that it is so in accord with the events on screen that it becomes unnoticeable. The unconscious mind receives the music and blends it seamlessly with the film.
The minor characters all add to the effect of the movie. The shop owner is a little overdone, almost to the point of caricature, but her appearances are so brief that this is necessary to impact upon the story.
This may not sound like a scintillating plot but the film has serious things to say. The relationship between humans and robots has been dealt with in several movies but never with the gentleness and understanding displayed in Robot and Frank. It is Frank’s insight into the workings of the machine mind that enables him to bring the robot so wholeheartedly into conspiracy with him. What Frank has not foreseen is how this will bind them together into a relationship that resembles love.
The movie also makes us consider the effects of dementia on a brilliant mind. This is entirely believable until one is confronted with Frank’s complete ignorance of his former relationship with the librarian. Is it really possible that dementia would be so selective in wiping an entire memory of one thing while allowing everything else to remain or, at least, to come and go?
It is a weakness of the movie but one I am prepared to overlook in view of its necessity for the plot. Sometimes a blind eye needs to be turned to the flaws of something that is otherwise perfect.
To sum up, Robot and Frank is a movie that deserves much more than the cult following it has gained to date. It is at times comic, at others sad, sometimes dramatic and sometimes low key. Frank and his robot are an unlikely pairing but result in one of the most enjoyable movie experiences I’ve had in a long time. Watch it - you won’t regret it.
This movie is available for free with subscription to Amazon Prime.
Word Count: 774