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Review: Robot and Frank
March 6, 2013
Premiering at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival Robot and Frank was honoured with the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for films related to science-fiction. In my opinion this film deserved this win because of the way it married sci-fi with emotional story-telling – though it may have played on the audience’s emotions too much. It hardly boasts the technical achievements and wonders as seen in Looper which is obviously a cause of the low budget of the film but it’s far enough into the future where the technological advances on show are plausible; but the heart of the film is so strong you hardly care about gadgets.
Frank Langella stars as Frank, an ageing divorcee and ex-thief who is having trouble adjusting to his autumn years and the rapidly changing world around him “it’s going to be immersive experiences from now on” he’s told as he wonders how removing books from the library could improve it. This isn’t helped by his illness of dementia which I’ll address later. His son Hunter is played by Frank Marsden who turns in a terrific performance as the detached son, though he does seem a little out of his comfort zone in one emotional scene. Hunter decides to give Frank a Robot in an attempt to preserve his mental well-being and to spend time with his own kids.
As you might expect when you introduce technology to anyone over the age of 50, Frank takes an immediate dislike to (the) Robot and wishes it would not interfere with him, this pushes the story into an ‘odd-couple’ scenario which is very fresh as the two slowly become closer. It is never properly addressed if the Robot has Artificial Intelligence, which distresses Frank, especially when the robot quotes Descartes “I think therefore I am” bringing to light Frank’s battle with dementia and his loss of personality and memories. Robot suggests that Frank takes up a hobby to keep his mind fresh, so naturally as any man over the age of 50 would he, commits a string of burglaries – with Robot as a trusty sidekick; the duo are so comical together that the only time I can recall a robot and human being so funny is Fry and Bender from Futurama. This is shown best when the two meet the librarian, played by Susan Sarandon who has her own personal robotic assistant, is also concerned about the renovations to the library but accepts it as a passage of time; her ability to adapt comes from events from her past which are revealed later to great effect. Liv Tyler also makes an appearance as Frank’s daughter when she finds out that Frank has been abandoned with a heartless robot. The rest of the cast also put in a superb performance and nobody falters.
The script is so crisp and well-written you’re almost left begging for more as the run time is so short, yet satisfying. The script is bold enough to deal with dementia, incorporating the illness into the plot and juxtaposing the Robot’s memory and knowledge of frank (he supposedly read his file) with Franks slowly dissipating memories. This proves heart-breaking and because of the emotion and the well-developed characters, the way the film also doesn’t talk down to the audience is also a refreshing move but doesn’t get too bogged down in philosophical enquiries.
Robot and Frank trusts the audience to understand the world and the mature themes at work, but doesn’t become obsessed with hammering the point home, making jokes that both kids and adults can watch; in short, Futurama meets Disney.
Robot and Frank is released in UK cinemas this Friday, 8th March.