out of Five
Running time: 88
Enjoyable, well written and superbly acted comedy drama that cleverly blends buddy movies, Sci-Fi flicks and caper pictures into an emotionally engaging film about old age
What's it all about?
Directed by Jake Schreier, Robot & Frank is set in the near future and stars Frank Langella as Frank, a forgetful, divorced ex-cat burglar whose grown-up kids Hunter and Madison (James Marsden and Liv Tyler) are starting to worry about him after a series of memory-related incidents. When Hunter buys him a robot assistant (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) tasked with looking after his mental and physical health, Frank is initially sceptical, until he realises that the robot's programming prioritises Frank's well-being over any concept of obeying the law, thereby making him the perfect partner for a resumed cat burgling career.
Frank Langella is terrific as Frank, eschewing the easy route of making him twinkly and likeable, in favour of a much more interesting, frequently grouchy performance so that you can easily see how he might have been a difficult husband and father. There's also superb support from both Marsden and Tyler, as well as a warm turn from Susan Sarandon as local librarian Jennifer, Jeremy Strong as smarmy businessman Jake (who has designs on the library) and Jeremy Sisto as a suspicious cop.
In addition, Sarsgaard delivers a note-perfect voice performance as Robot (with just a hint of 2001's HAL) while actress Rachael Ma does some impressive robot work inside the costume. Similarly, the production design is both simple and effective with convincing-looking futuristic phones and communication devices as well as the occasional electric car whizzing about.
The clever script subtly blends elements of several different genres (e.g. Sci-Fi flicks, caper pictures, black comedies and buddy movies) so that you're never quite sure where the story is going; as a result, the finale is both unexpected and genuinely moving. On top of that, the dialogue is excellent and there are several clever jokes, such as Frank teaching the robot a useful phrase to stop people messing with it, or an amusing moment where the robot finds it doesn't have much to say to Jennifer's library assistant robot.
Engagingly directed and superbly written, Robot & Frank is an enjoyable, original and ultimately moving comedy drama with a pair of marvellous performances from Frank Langella and Peter Sarsgaard. Highly recommended.