Retired jewel thief Frank (Frank Langella) has the hots for local librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), adores his free-spirited globe-trotting daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) and tolerates his well-meaning, overly attentive son Hunter (James Marsden). Worried his faculties are slipping away from the older man, Hunter secures his dad the use of a specialized caretaker Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), a mechanical nanny Frank at first abhors. But after a while an odd sort of friendship blossoms between the two, the line between man and machine beginning to blur as the former criminal begins to scratch an itch he long since thought heíd given up on before the law could nab him for his crimes.
Hereís what I wrote about this one in my August 2012 Theatrical Review:
ďSet in an undisclosed Ďnear future,í Robot & Frank is a curiously sweet little character study given its drive and energy thanks to an unvarnished and remarkably naked performance by Frank Langella that helps take the material to a plateau it never would have achieved otherwise. Cagey, confident and self-assured, the former Academy Award-nominee isnít afraid to show Frankís wounds, to showcase how his diminished mental health is both made more whole by his new relationship but also ends up suffering directly because of it. One moment a man in full, the very next a shell of a former self heís not even sure ever existed in the first place, this is a sensational bit of acting that held me spellbound, a remainder of what a great actor can oftentimes do with even the slightest of material.
I donít mean any disrespect when I label director Jake Schreier and writer Christopher D. Fordís futuristic fable as slight. It is, plain and simple, but when the storytelling is this well-constructed, the central characters this three-dimensional and the emotions this effervescently true being slight isnít a bad thing at all. If anything, itís kind of a plus, the filmmakers keeping their focus centered exactly where it needs to be, very seldom straying off into subplots or side tangents that donítí drive the central narrative forward.
Whatís interesting to me is that, for a movie so obviously using its slick sci-fi premise to be nothing more than a character study of a man dealing with the tragic pangs of mental illness, is just how playful much of the story proves to be. When Frank and Robot begin planning a jewel heist, when they start conspiring to rip off a self-centered immature neighbor (Jeremy Strong) who holds technology above all else and treats the old man as nothing more than a relic to be pitied, itís hard not sit there and broadly grin. The way the former thief uses his wiles to bring his robotic helper to his cause, how he uses the tin manís logic against him, all of it is wonderful, making the juxtaposition between his lucid state and his deteriorating capacities all the more tragically jarring.
Not sure the climactic moments revolving around Hunterís exasperation as to what it exactly it is thatís given his father a newfound bounce to his step or the arrival of a bumbling, Colombo-like sheriff (Jeremy Sisto) add much to the proceedings, these sequences feeling tacked on and unfocused in a way the rest of the picture decidedly is not. Strongís smug, pompously self away performance also didnít do a lot for me, but as the character is obviously meant to be this way I canít really blame him for my annoyance in regards to his portrayal.
The final scenes, however, are borderline perfect. Revelations involving Jennifer, a decision about Robotís future, how Frank will continue to relate to both of his children as he continues to age, all of it comes full circle in a way that brought richly deserved tears to my eyes. The breadth and scope of Langella performance becomes apparent in all its genius during this portion, and while Robot & Frank doesnít exactly surprise or go places all that unexpected what he does with the material and the emotions he brought out of me certainly were. It stole a place right in the center of my heart, the finished film a sweet, humble reminder of how great a simple story assertively told can be.Ē
Robot & Frank plays quite nicely the second time around, part of me thinking I enjoyed it even more this time than I did that first go-around. Slight, yes, but intelligently scripted and filled with wonderful performances, not the least of which is Langellaís remarkable, dare I saw Oscar-worthy central turn that just gets richer and more rewarding the more I think about it. Make no mistake, this movie is a gem worthy of being discovered by a much larger audience now that itís available on DVD.
Robot & Franks is presented with a 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen transfer.
The DVD features English Dolby Digital 5.1 along with Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks and includes optional English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish subtitles.
Extras here include a winning, if subdued, Audio Commentary with director Jake Schreier and writer Christopher Ford as well an illustrated Robot Poster Campaign Gallery.
Robot & Frank is a solid little movie anchored by a moving and multifaceted central performance by Langella thatís quite extraordinary. Not a big hit or a movie that ended up on a lot of criticsí 2012 best-of lists, this is still a wonderful gem of a melodrama I canít help audiences will discover now thatís itís available for home viewing.