In the not too distant future, Frank (Frank Langella) is given a robot by his son Hunter (James Marsden) to help around the house. The trouble is Frank is a retired jewel thief, and it is not long before he sees the benefit of having a robot on his side, which leads to past crimes coming back to haunt him.
Robot & Frank is an odd, but endearing mix. Screenwriter Christopher D. Ford has blended together the classic crime caper with an examination of aging, and the refusal to submit to old age.
As always, Frank Langella is a joy to watch on screen. He plays both stubborn and sweet throughout the film, and manages this with subtlety and nuance. Frank is both obstinate and lonely, but refuses to admit that he may need the help that his son is offering. Langella’s relationship with Robot – superbly voiced by Peter Sarsgaard – is a delight; both are child and mentor with one another and their banter is calculated but witty.
Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler and James Marsden provide back up, but this story is really about the relationship between man and machine.
The story is almost a cautionary tale for all of us; this is the way society is headed – robot butlers, the end of printed books and odd videophones á la Back to the Future – and it will not be long before each of us has to catch up or be left behind. That said, the future that director Jake Schreier is a surprisingly warm and familiar one. Robot cooks beautiful meals for Frank, and encourages him to take up gardening or walks through the woods near his home. A far cry from the glistening plastic versions of the future we have been shown in so many movies.
Where the film falls down, however, is the simple but thin story. The heist planned is low profile but high value, which means that we miss out on an extended robbery scene that would have given Frank and his robot something to fight for. As well as this, it feels as though the film runs out of steam early on, and flounders for much of the third act. When the finale does hit, however, it is a short sharp emotional punch that belies the light and dismissive banter between Frank and his friend, Robot.
Robot & Frank is a sweet, surprisingly emotional but slightly light film. There are moments of greatness, but the film suffers from both an overlong running time or a lack of ideas. Langella and Sargsaard are wonderful together and the film packs an emotional punch, even if it does come slightly late in the game.