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Published on December 23rd, 2014 | by Clint Davis

Robot & Frank [2012]

Robot & Frank [2012] Clint Davis

Summary: This indie sci-fi dramedy about an old man and his helper robot is extremely well-acted and endearing. Frank is a fully-realized character thanks to Langella's performance.


Damn Fine

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PG-13  |  89 min.

Director: Jake Schreier  |  Screenplay: Christopher D. Ford

Starring: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden

Distribution: Samuel Goldwyn Films, Stage 6 Films

Frank Langella puts on an acting clinic with his dynamic performance as…um…Frank.

Anthropomorphizing robots has always been a fun and effective device for sci-fi storytelling. Whether it was the betrayal we felt from Ash in Alien, the fear from HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey or the companionship we felt with R2-D2 & C-3PO in Star Wars–these mechanical beings are able to convey any emotion, often better than a human character can. Is this because we are so emotionally attached to material objects but unattached to most of the people in our lives? …anyways, back to the review.

The titular android in Robot & Frank isn’t particularly amusing, yet in providing much-needed companionship to the film’s main character, he becomes very endearing. This film’s robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) is deadpan and only funny on accident–like when he tells a group of kids inspecting him outside of a library, “Warning. Do not molest me.” The humor in this sci-fi dramedy comes from the interactions between its title characters.

Politics creeps into the film’s story as Frank’s daughter is anti-robot labor, shutting the robot down during a visit.

Frank Weld (Frank Langella) is your typical crotchety old man (why is crotchety never used in any other context than describing old people?). He’s separated from his wife, he lives alone and his two children get on his nerves but it must be said that they are pretty good kids who try to watch out for him. His son Hunter (James Marsden) is worried about his father’s overall health as well as the disastrous state of his home so he buys Frank a helper robot to keep around the house. Tensions begin between the old man and his new device immediately and it’s not until Frank, a retired burglar, discovers the robot’s usefulness in pulling off break-ins that he begins to come around.

This movie has a lot of heart, mostly thanks to Langella who turns in yet another outstanding performance. We see Frank go through a lot of interior changes in less than 90 minutes and we may not always like him but when a slight twist is revealed at the end, it definitely makes us more sympathetic to his stubbornness. Liv Tyler and Susan Sarandon are solid as the female leads but Marsden surprised me with his performance. He was heartfelt and authentic as the caring son, the best work I’ve seen of his…although he was pretty much perfect as Corny Collins back in the day.

James Marsden gives arguably his best dramatic performance as Frank’s son Hunter.

What really impressed me about Robot & Frank was the class it handled itself with. Director Jake Schreier seemed to have a style in mind and he nailed it in the production of the film. Aside from the robot and a single passing shot of a high-tech car, you would never know this movie was set in the “near future” without the subtitle. Like its performances, the visuals in Robot & Frank are subtle–even the robot himself just looks like Honda’s ASIMO rather than something more stylized.

The movie’s art direction is subtle but sleek in presenting the near future.

I was also surprised when I looked Schreier’s name up, expecting to find a litany of indie dramas attached to his name, but instead found he had never directed a feature before this one. In fact, several of the names attached to Robot & Frank‘s crew are first-timers. Cinematographer Matthew Lloyd and screenwriter Christopher Ford had only worked on shorts and music videos and this marked the first time rock band Francis and the Lights had scored a picture. This movie was directed with such confidence and its script deals so well with the human condition that I was stunned to see it was made by a bunch of rookies, but I’ll definitely be keeping them on the radar from now on.

Check out Robot & Frank on Amazon

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About the Author

Clint Davis is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based journalist who dropped out of film school to write news! Email him at TheClintDavis@gmail.com.

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