Robot & Frank
dir Jake Schreier
scr Christopher D Ford
prd Lance Acord, Jackie Kelman Bisbee, Sam Bisbee, Galt Niederhoffer
with Frank Langella, Peter Sarsgaard, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Susan Sarandon, Jeremy Strong, Jeremy Sisto, Rachael Ma, Ana Gasteyer, Bonnie Bentley, Dario Barosso, Katherine Waterston
release US 17.Aug.12, UK 8.Mar.13
12/US 1h28
Robot & Frank
Help me: Langella, the robot and Tyler

sarsgaard marsden sarandon
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Robot & Frank A warm tone masks the sharp edges of this film's script. It feels like a heartwarming story about an old man and his mechanical sidekick, but is actually about much more than that. It's also often very funny.

Frank (Langella) is a grumpy, forgetful divorcee living in a rural house, so his grown kids (Marsden and Tyler) worry about him. His son buys him a robot assistant (voiced by Sarsgaard) with a simple mission to look out for Frank's mental and physical health. Frank dismisses the robot until he discovers that its prime directive allows it to help him return to his cat-burgling career. His first target is the old library, run by his friend Jennifer (Sarandon) but being turned into an electronic social centre by a young businessman (Strong) from the city.

The film has a gentle pace that understates the comedy and plays down any potential for suspense. Frank's memory isn't hugely reliable, but he's sharp as a tack when it comes to thieving. And as he starts to bond with the robot, we watch his mind begin to focus in ways that give him energy he forgot he had. This includes an attempt to woo Jennifer, plus a caper he indulges in just because he can.

Director Schreier steps back and lets Langella run the show. The photography is efficient but murky, mainly due to Frank's drab house. And the editing centres on the snappy dialog, letting scenes drift into punchlines as Frank and the robot develop their witty rapport. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast essentially just plays befuddled, as no one around Frank has a clue what he's up to.

Set in the near future to allow for a bit of technological whizzery, the 80s-style robot is blocky and simplistic, even if it's capable of complex tasks. It's performed physically by Ma with tiny glimpses of humanity, while Sarsgaard adds deadpan emotion in a subtle nod to 2001's Hal. In the end, the film feels too light and goofy to really grab our imagination, but it's engaging and entertaining. And it reminds us that getting old doesn't mean giving up on life.

cert 12 themes, language 3.Oct.12 lff

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Robot & Frank Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall