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Review: Robot And Frank


A man and his robot. No wait, come back. This is something a bit special...

robot and frank langella and friend

It is a rare opportunity to see a film that could be visually engaging, clever in its plot and dialogue, thought provoking and capture the very heart of humanity, change and what life can be like to all of us when we get older. I am sure you would hope this would be one of those films.

With a cast that is solid: Frank Langella (Masters of the Universe, Frost/Nixon - Oscar Nominated), Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise, Dead Man Walking - won an Oscar, Lorenzo’s Oil - Oscar nominated) and Peter Sarsgaard (Jarhead, Boys Don’t Cry, Knight & Day), you would hope that they would be able to carry the film forward and be engaging. A script by first time big screen writer Christopher Ford would be an uncertain bet and one could forgive the ensemble for trying too hard with dealing the near future. A subject’s treatment that is so often way off the mark. Technology can also get in the way with slick looking gadgets and flash special effects. It filled me with total dread.

Langella also has had a varied impact in his appearances and who can forget that he was Skeletor to Dolph Lundgren’s HeMan. Well it all makes for a rather ‘groansome’ spectacle when you know that the film's premise is basically a futuristic jewellery buddy heist caper.

Oh dear, you may be thinking.

Come off it.

A critic needs to be critical and all that.

robot and frank langella and friend staredownI'm not going to sit through a film like this without being moved. I ‘man-cried’ (that’s trying to shove the tears back in the eyes surreptitiously) in the press screening. Not because it was crap laden schmaltz. I man-cried because the story made me. It was a wonderful film. I may be lambasted for this, but I’m giving you my honest opinion.

Robot and Frank hits all the right notes, even with the music, which was clever in its balance of robotic presence and hinting and support of the narrative. It really called out to my sensibilities. I am Frank. I felt I totally connected to the foul-mouthed pensioner who is himself feeling completely out of step with the world that has changed.

I bought the world created by Ford’s script which was further enhanced by sensitive direction on the part of director Jake Schreier. The character of Frank - his situation kept making me think about what would I be like in the future. Would I be this grumpy? This lost? This film could not let the feeling be ignored.

Whether intentional or not, Robot and Frank felt slightly reminiscent of the movie adaptation of Issaac Asimov's Bicentennial Man. That impression was, however, soon surpassed by the adroitness of the characterisation. In fact this story would shine amongst the pages of Asimov's I, Robot and is far closer to the spirit of those short stories than the action fumble that starred Will Smith.

Robot and Frank takes you to a plausible near future whilst the story manages to ridicule society and attitudes of now in the same breath. How great it is to see such brilliant actors work together and make short moments sparkle. Langella and Sarrendon are a pleasure to watch. My criticism would be at that I wanted to see more of the relationship grow between their characters.  However, as with so much in this film, there is a good reason for this, which was utterly touching and if you have family you cannot fail to be touched by their story.

robot and frank langella and friend outsideThe quality script is backed up with excellent cinematography and wonderful autumnal lighting, combined with excellent art direction by Lisa Myers, hits the mood exactly right from scene to scene. The futuristic props are unobtrusive, yet very effective  

In summary, this is an excellent example of how to tell a story on the screen and it was a film I knew could be made. I was just waiting for it. This film is for grown ups. It's for people who love stories about relationships and family and that is what makes this film.

The titular companion to Frank is a difficult character to get right and there is no doubt that the combination of the live performance action actor (Rachael Ma) and Sarsgaard’s voice was sensitive and likeable without relying too heavily on the similarity between robot voices such as Douglas Rain’s HAL 9000 or Kevin Spacey’s GERTY. The robot looks like one of Toyota or Honda's creations keeping the sense of this future being just around the corner. No doubt that there’s been a lot of research to get there and this is where the film makes a good journey exploring where robotics is heading.

Go and see it and get it on disc or legally download when it comes out. I will.

I would give Langella an Oscar for his wonderful character and I hope to see this team make another film about anything they like.

Director: Jake Schreier
Writer: Christopher D. Ford
Stars: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon and Peter Sarsgaard

5 stars


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