Friday, August 24, 2012

A Reel Review: ROBOT & FRANK

ROBOT & FRANK is a charming little number which has already earned a prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It is a simple tale with many layers, brilliantly acted and directed, full of worthwhile surprises, and an outstanding performance by the centerpiece, Frank Langella.
Frank (Frank Langella) is a retired cat-burglar who is living alone and suffering from lapses in memory. Despite the protests of his daughter Madison (Liv Tyler), his son Hunter (James Marsden) brings him a robot (brilliantly voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) to keep him in good health and help take care of the house. Despite his initial protests, Frank eventually warms up to his new mechanical friend; teaching him how to be a burglar while hoping to win the affections of the town librarian (Susan Sarandon).

In its first act or so, ROBOT & FRANK looks like it is shaping up to be a typical, man-versus-the-abominations-of-technology story. While that theme is an important part of the film, director Jake Schreier takes the film into many interesting and important directions. The movie moves into family drama territory; familiar and powerful themes of families coping with loved ones entering their vulnerable elderly years. It goes a lot deeper than its apparent odd-couple routine, and the end results are very rewarding.
There is great character study going on throughout, but it is the decision to keep this world in which the characters live in (stated as the ‘near future’) grounded which makes things easy to relate to. In this future with robots, there are no flying cars, holograms or mutated people. Aside from the robot himself, there are only bits and pieces of a near future scattered about the small town and Frank’s quaint, old-fashioned home.

Performances are very good all around, although the script seems to shortchange Frank’s grown kids (Tyler and Marsden). While the both of them do very well with what they have, they are never given the opportunity for scene-stealing. Susan Sarandon is very charming and fun, and her importance in the film grows as things move forward.
But the film belongs to Langella. Although the story and dialogue he is working with are simple, the script seems to find a lot of different layers for Langella to play with and excel at. Like the rest of the cast, Langella doesn’t get that big emotional blow-up scene, but he really doesn’t need to. The film, like Langella’s performance, is very tempered with great focus on plot and character, and Langella’s portrayal of a confused old man is heart-wrenching.

The finale comes about by way of a clever twist which the film doesn’t rely upon for success, but instead adds another emotional layer for the audience to deal with. ROBOT & FRANK winds up being a bittersweet tale; swimming in reality and gushing with the human side of things; and keeping things human is the best kind of science fiction.

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