Set in the near future, Frank, a retired cat burglar, has two grown kids who are concerned he can no longer live alone. They are tempted to place him in a nursing home until Frank’s son chooses a different option: against the old man’s wishes, he buys Frank a walking, talking humanoid robot programmed to improve his physical and mental health. What follows is an often hilarious and somewhat heartbreaking story about finding friends and family in the most unexpected places.
Robot and Frank is a wonderful little story about a man that is beginning to realize his life is winding down and he finds himself grasping for the present. Ironically Frank (Frank Langella) is also losing a bit of his reality so it is even harder to tell what is working still and what is not. Our brains are like that as we age, and what is real and what is not can really control our life vision.
Frank is a former cat burglar that specialized in only stealing jewels. He reasoned that nobody was getting hurt except the insurance companies if he stuck to diamonds. He is now living all by himself in a small town set in the not so distant future. Although he is not remembering everything accurately, he still has some pretty solid memories and skills.
He sharpens and hones those skills by shoplifting to keep in touch with his younger wild side…homage of sorts.
It is not long before we find out he has a little crush on the librarian in town. She is played by Susan Sarandon in a touching role for her that is for once, understated.
Frank has a son (James Marsden) and a daughter (Liv Tyler) that are both concerned about their father. Although Frank is rather gruff and a bit short, both have come to terms with it and love their father. As the son starts to realize that he is losing some of his mental faculties, he decides to give him a robot. (Remember this is set in the future) The robot is designed to take care of Frank, feed him and keep the house together. It is also intended to be a bit of a companion to keep his mind focusing and sharp.
Frank is not interested at first to say the least, but in time he gives in and grows to like the robot. Some of the conversations Langella pulls out of this robot are incredibly poignant. It is by far the greatest performance of Langella’s career in my view. He is sad, shy, irate and joyous all in one movie, and all with a robot. It certainly does not hurt things that the robot is skillfully voiced by the great Peter Saarsgard.
Eventually, as the robot becomes immersed in Frank’s life, Frank starts to realize that this robot is the perfect thief. It has no morals, no hang-ups and the ability to think critically. With Frank behind them, they could easily pull off a heist. Suddenly Frank comes alive all over again and begins focusing and feeling better. He gets that spring in his step and begins to fight the inevitable aging process that we all face with a bit more gusto.
Of course, the criminal actions have consequences and complications are certain to arise. How will Frank deal with these things and how is the robot involved? What will happen to this man and his newfound friend? These are the questions that the movie explores and it is an absolute classic.
Jake Schrier directed a masterpiece in his first feature, doing a masterful job of letting Langella, Sarandon and the cast explore their emotions on set. Every scene in this movie is well thought out and they do an incredible job of helping us to regulate into the whole robot story. Not once do you feel like the robot is anything more than a very important part of Frank’s life. He fits right in and Frank becomes fast friends despite his ornery nature.
Frank Langella deserves an award for this portrayal and you would do well to head out and view this movie soon. It is absolutely part of a dying breed of small market movies with big time talent. It might be under the radar, but it is at the top of the box office talent list.