Filmed between two locations and directed by first time feature director, Jake Schreier, it tells the story of a close relationship between an elderly man (Langella), a former jewel-thief who is facing the early stages of Alzheimer, and a robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) programmed to aid old people.
Set in a credible near feature in which robots are used as aids to human beings – something which is already starting to happen now – Frank is far from looking forward to the idea of sharing his daily life with an ‘appliance’ as he calls it. The robot is in fact a gift from Frank’s son, Hunter (James Marsden), who is worried about his dad’s loss of memory. Frank also has a daughter, Madison (Liv Tyler) but she is busy travelling around the world and has little time to be present for her father. Initially suspicious about the robot, Frank soon realizes that he could make good use of the naïve machine to pursue his thieving endeavours. Frank also has a crush on the local librarian (Susan Sarandon) and when a wealthy developer decides to buy his beloved library he plans to steal a precious edition of Don Quixote and – later – the developer’s wife jewellery.
Frank and the robot resemble Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; two unconventional heroes completely different to one another who pursue some not entirely chivalric quests and share –on Frank’s side– a hint of dementia. Robot and Frank is a film which explores multiple themes, exhilarating at times but also genuinely touching. It looks at issues of loneliness and the way we treat old people, but also at the idea of artificial intelligence and whether humans can interact with it and feel emotions. It is also about Frank’s life, his ‘career’ as a jewel thief and his pride in his booty.
Langella is immense in his role and he brings multiple facets to his character. Frank is not exactly your stereotypically nice gentle grandpa and we never know quite what he is up to in his machinations. There is some melancholy in watching such a fast-thinking mind falling to Alzheimer. On the other side, Robot is a lifeless entity but it still has some human insights despite its facelessness. Or perhaps it is the fact that it has no face at all that allows Frank as well as the audience to project onto it human characteristics.
The cast is excellent, and the technical crew equally deserve praise. In particular the production design and art direction which create a highly credible near-future that shares many aspects of our world but also includes some new technologies which seem totally plausible. The screenplay is equally well written and presents some great dialogue between the two protagonists.
Robot and Frank is a candid but never predictable look into an elderly man’s life that will surprise you with its wit and psychological depth at the same time. If you get the chance – go see it.
Review by Elisa Scubla
This Review originally published as part of Elisa’s coverage of The London Film Festival 2012