ROBOT & FRANK
Written by Christopher D. Ford
Rated M. 89 minutes
Dendy Opera Quays, Hoyts
Broadway and Paris, Chauvel,
Cremorne Orpheum, Warriewood
from November 15
FRANK'S robot has a blank screen for a face and a smooth, white moulded body that give him a disconcerting resemblance to a Star Wars stormtrooper. But he's also equipped with the diplomatic skills of C-3PO and the velvety voice of Peter Sarsgaard, who can sound very calming when he's not playing seedy seducers and twitchy villains.
Frank and Robot - trailer
Concerned he can no longer live alone, the children of Frank buy him a robot to take care of him.
But Frank (Frank Langella) doesn't like the robot and he resents his son for bringing it into his house. Elderly and forgetful he may be but he doesn't want this stranger pottering around. Especially galling is the robot's conviction that he knows more about Frank's needs than Frank himself does.
Robot & Frank is set in the very near future. Google "domestic robot" and you learn that a walking, talking model with a flair for housework may be on the market as early as 2015. If so, the prototype should be shown this film, for it's full of tips on the ethical hazards that humanoids should watch out for.
|name||Robot & Frank|
|Screen Writer||Christopher D. Ford|
|Actors||Peter SarsgaardFrank LangellaSusan SarandonJames MarsdenLiv TylerJeremy Strong|
Set in the near future, an ex-jewel thief receives a gift from his son: a robot butler programmed to look after him. But soon the two companions try their luck as a heist team.
Langella makes a formidable Frank, which comes as no surprise. His career has been filled with roles both commanding and sinister. As well as appearing as a particularly seductive Dracula on stage and screen in the 1970s, he was Nixon in Frost/Nixon. He's also the author of an irresistible memoir bursting with trenchantly told anecdotes about the late and the great. He speaks so freely that you have to be dead to be in it.
The robot makes its first mistake by suggesting that he take up gardening. He does not garden. But he does soften unexpectedly on discovering that the robot will be sent back to the warehouse and its memory erased if it fails to please. The thought of an erased memory strikes a chord with Frank and an edgy rapport begins to form. But the two really bond when he learns that the robot has not been programmed to obey the law. For Frank is a retired jewel thief and, with the robot's help, he thinks he may be able to get back on the job.
As a plot device, it's pretty creaky. Nothing about Frank's comfortable clapboard house in upstate New York or his nice, middle-class children, Hunter (James Marsden) and Madison (Liv Tyler), suggest a life of crime. Even his shoplifting exploits at the local gift shop could be explained as a symptom of his dementia - or his chronic boredom. His only friend in town is the librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon). Together they lament the end of the library as they know it now that Jake, a perky IT whiz kid (Jeremy Strong), has taken charge. He's getting rid of the books so there'll be more space for computers and discussion groups and he views Frank, with his print addiction, as a quaint relic of times gone by - worth having around for his historical value.
Such concern for books is refreshing since the film's director, Jake Schreier, is from the world of commercials and music videos. No doubt that's where he got the inspiration for Jake and his yuppie friends who turn out for a party to celebrate the library's makeover. Jennifer asks Frank to go with her and the quality of the guests' jewellery prompt his desire to start working again.
The resulting heist is mildly entertaining while doing little to liven up the action, which slows to a casual stroll once Frank and the robot get to know one another. Nonetheless, it's a film which knows the essential difference between charm and mawkishness, and the eternally elegant Langella turns Frank into a poignantly gallant figure, staunch in his disdain for phoniness of any kind. Marsden, too, is good as the son who's still searching for a way to get his parent's attention, but the film's most complex relationship is the one between Frank and the robot. In the end even he's convinced that it's dedicated to his welfare.
And who knows? One of its relatives may be coming soon to a neighbourhood near you.