Wednesday, 14 November 2012
FILM REVIEW: ROBOT & FRANK
The old man and the automaton sounds like an odd couple movie, and so it is. But Robot & Frank is much more than its sometimes cutesy, somewhat high concept premise would suggest. At its heart, Jake Schreier's film (written by Christopher D. Ford) is about loss: of memory, books, the past. But it's by no means a downer.
Frank (Frank Langella) is a one-time cat burglar now retired to leafy upstate New York where he lives alone in a big house. He occupies his days by venturing into the local town where, when he's not trying to find his favourite diner (long since closed) or stealing kitty cat soaps from a knick-knacks store, he's visiting the local library and flirting with head librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon).
But Frank is actually suffering from Alzheimer's, and his son Hunter (James Marsden), exasperated for having to drive from the city each time Frank dismisses another carer (or shoplifts a bar of soap), decides it's time his dad was taken into hand. Robotic hands.
Robot & Frank is actually set in 'the near future', and Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard, and sounding a lot like Kevin Spacey in creepy mode) is a carer model designed to regiment its charge's day-to-day activities, including meals, medication and hobbies; routine keeps the mind active and in order.
Naturally, things get off to a rocky start. Frank doesn't want a 'butler' but by the time his crusading daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) comes to stay, spouting anti-slavery, 'robots are people too' nonsense, Frank has become rather fond of Robot. He's also decided Robot (as much as he likes him, Frank never names him) would be the perfect accomplice for a little light larceny; the cat burglar spurred out of retirement by his new partner's ideal application for lock picking and safe cracking.
Their mark? The douchey hipster Jake (Jeremy Strong), who lives across the way from Frank and has come to town to oversee a project whereby the local library will be completely digitized.
Robot & Frank uses the near future-sci-fi elements to dress-up (but never distractingly) what is essentially a film about Alzheimer's. Without it it may have been a mere TV movie-of-the-week, or worse, the robot would have been replaced by a young female nurse with the personality and technical nous of Lisbeth Salander.
Ironically, Robot humanises both the film and Frank, certainly early on when he's little more than a grumpy old man. But Langella ultimately makes for a likeable curmudgeon, and his and Robot's relationship is sweet and charming without ever being cloying or saccharine. Thankfully, Robot & Frank isn't programmed that way.