ROBOT & FRANK
Set in the near future, Frank (Frank Langella), a retired cat burglar, has two grown kids (James Marsden, Liv Tyler) who are concerned he can no longer live alone. They are tempted to place him in a nursing home until Frank's son Hunter (Marsden) chooses a different option: against the old man's wishes, he buys Frank a walking, talking humanoid robot (voice of Peter Sarsgaard) programmed to improve his physical and mental health.
Review by Louise Keller:
Simply oozing with charm, this sci-fi buddy movie about a robot and an ageing ex-jewel thief with memory issues has heart when you least expect it, allowing its bittersweet arrow to gently trigger our emotions. The impressive debut feature for director Jake Schreier and screenwriter Christopher D. Ford, the film relies on the strength of the relationship between the robot programmed to stimulate mental activity and Frank Langella's Frank, whose mind is malfunctioning.
Set in Cold Spring, New York, in the near future, Frank's (Langella) initial horror at being presented with a robot butler (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) by his son Hunter (James Marsden) to turn his muddled life into a routine, dissipates when he realises he can train his little white minder to pick a lock and be a helpful accomplice. A compulsive thief whose mantra has always been to steal 'high-end stuff' so only the insurance company 'crooks' bear the brunt, Frank finds the robot offers him a new lease of life as well as mental stimulation, albeit not the intended gardening the robot had proposed.
The fact that the robot is able to predict the variables and odds for success before the burglary Frank is planning takes place, is utterly delicious to the man who has been in jail twice (although one time was for tax evasion), and whose marriage broke up 30 years earlier and was never home for his two children.
There are amusing scenes as Frank teaches the shiny white robot (with black coat over its shoulders for camouflage) how 'to case a joint', when his attention focuses on his wealthy, obnoxious neighbour Jake (Jeremy Strong), to whom he has taken a keen dislike. His local library, where another robot - called Mr Darcy - helps the lovely librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) is being 'reimagined' courtesy Jake to house only digital scans instead of the books themselves.
Son Hunter and oft-travelling daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) are obviously concerned about their flailing father and what sweet irony when Madison comes to stay to relieve him of the robot she believes he doesn't want, only to find that Frank has developed an attachment to (and reliance on) it. Like Frank, we start to think of the robot as a person, with its own idiosyncrasies and sense of humour. He delights in sharing his thieving skills with the robot, who becomes his partner in crime and best buddy.
Langella is wonderful as Frank; the best scenes are those between Frank and the robot. We are not prepared for the emotional hit as the story reaches its conclusion, leaving us misty eyed and more than satisfied of the journey we have shared.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It is a poignant moment when the robot (voice of Peter Sarsgaard) suggests to Frank (Langella) that his digital memory be wiped as a precaution for Frank's benefit - after they pull a heist together. In a way, this is the thematic heart of the film, which deals with the problems of ageing and memory loss through the story of a retired cat burglar. (Not too retired ...)
Debuting feature filmmakers director Jake Schreier and screenwriter Christopher D. Ford (who both graduated from New York film school in 2003) have captured a powerfully relevant subject - and I suspect the screenplay was triggered by personal experience with a parent. The quality of the writing attracted this stellar cast, and that's where the bulk of the budget went, because it is made simply and smartly, using easy locations and avoiding costly metro arrangements.
Langella absolutely nails the tone for his character, hardly surprising given that he is one of America's most respected stage actors. Sarsgaard is maginificent as the robot voice, creating the character as surely as if he were a human, and their chemistry is superb. Of course, a young female inhabits the robot outfit, but the way the filmmakers have shot and edited this little fella is impressive.
More concerned with the heart than the robotics, Robot & Frank is a buddy movie in which memory is a prized thing. And it's certainly memorable.
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ROBOT & FRANK (M)
CAST: Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Susan Sarandon, Jeremy Strong
VOICES: Peter Sarsgaard
PRODUCER: Lance Acord, Jackie Kelman Bisbee, Galt Niederhoffer
DIRECTOR: Jake Schreier
SCRIPT: Christopher D. Ford
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Matthew J. Lloyd
EDITOR: Jacob Craycroft
MUSIC: Francis and The Lights
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sharon Lomofsky
RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 15, 2012
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.