Directed by: Jack Schreier
Starring: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden and Liv Tyler
Runtime: 1 hour 29 minutes
Release Date: August 24, 2012
This odd little movie, matter-of-factly titled Robot & Frank, works for one solitary reason, its star Frank Langella. Sure he is surrounded by a number of great actors in supporting roles such as Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler and James Marsden and a very personable automaton, but at the end of the day it is Langella who makes our short visit with him and his robot worthwhile.
The film is about an old retired cat burglar who in the "near future" finds himself living alone at the outskirts of a small town where the only places he visits is the local library, which is about to be renovated into a museum of sorts because paper is no longer a viable medium, where he puts the moves on the Librarian and the local trinket shop where he likes to steal little figurines simply because he can. He has no caretakers and is only visited by his son once every week, which proves to be a problem when we realize that Frank's memory isn't as sharp as it used to be.
Enter Frank's robot, who is provided by his son because he is tired of making the long trek there and back each weekend. The robot, which is never given a name, immediately takes on the chores of Frank's home; cooking, cleaning and setting a schedule for routine exercise which includes tending to a garden and morning hikes in the woods. The problem is that Frank doesn't like the robot telling him what he can or can't do and mostly keeps it around to appease his son (or else be sent to a retirement home). But when Frank discovers that his robot has no qualms about committing criminal acts he becomes instantly invigorated and starts to plan out local robberies using his robot as an accomplice to his crimes.
Robot & Frank works because of Langella, plain and simple. But it is his interactions with his robot that is at the heart of the story being told. Frank is a man who not only feels like an old relic of a bygone era, but is constantly told so by the young and uptight yuppies who have moved into his town. So when he begins to bond with his robot during their extracurricular activities it is somewhat bittersweet as we see him begin to blossom once again only to be put back in his place once it is discovered what the two of them have been up.
The film isn't full of too many surprises, aside from a single reveal towards the end of the film that quite frankly came as a real shock. It is exactly the film it sells itself as, which is a story about an unlikely friendship amidst the pains of growing older. It is often times funny, sweet and moving as we watch Frank and his robot learn to live with one another, but it isn't anything exactly ground breaking or revelatory. There also seems to be some sort of message in there about how technology, as wonderful as it is, is as responsible for making us obsolete later in life just as much as our mind does when it ceases to function properly, but it is just subtle enough to never become too much of a distraction.
There is a lot to love about Robot & Frank, but Frank Langella's performance is what will stick with you long after it is over. The film has a lot to say about life, the future and how we handle becoming older, but it's what it has to say about friendship and family that truly makes it a worthwhile watch.