Robot & Frank is a rare gem, a film that digs into our future realistically and poignantly captures the universal human need for interaction. And despite being set in the near future, and revolving around the relationship between an impressively well-developed robot and his human owner, Robot & Frank is no sci-fi film.
This robot (wonderfully voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), is bought by Hunter (James Marsden) to help look after his ageing, but stubborn father Frank Weld (Frank Langella).
A retired jewel thief who's done his time, Frank is dealing with the almost imperceptible creep of dementia but is determined to continue to live by himself, satisfied by wandering into town to visit the library and flirt with the always helpful and generous Jennifer (Susan Sarandon). He refuses Hunter's pleas to consider some sort of care; so enters the ever-patient, reasonable, and never-offended robot. He cooks healthy meals, cleans up, and motivates Frank to work on projects in order to help slow the dementia's progress.
Of course Frank initially hates the robot - "he'll murder me in my sleep". But slowly the grumpy old bugger facade crumbles in the face of the robot's persistence, and an old-school charmer emerges as he realises he can teach the robot to help him steal.
No longer does Frank have to resign himself to pickpocketing at the local trinket store, he can now go after new, more-deserving targets.
Miles better than Bicentennial Man, and far more connected to a modern reality than animated films like Wall-E, the brilliance of Robot & Frank centres on Langella's beautifully pitched, perceptive performance, along with those of his supporting cast, and a crime caper script which knows how to build and release tension and pace in all the right places. It's a simple, real story, told with humour and honesty, that manages to tackle the serious business of ageing and the possiblity of loneliness, while keeping a glint in its eye.
Cast: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Peter Sarsgaard
Director: Jake Schreier
Running time: 89 mins
Verdict: Frank and funny contemplation of robotic possibilities