Robot & Frank

[12a]

United States 2012, 89 mins
Director: Jake Schreier
Starring: Frank Langella, Peter Sarsgaard, Susan Sarandon

How will we react when the automatons take over?

This is the fascinating, perhaps ominous, premise of Jake Schreier’s directorial debut, which won him major awards at both Sundance and Sitges festivals last year. Set in the near future, the question arises as we follow tetchy, long-widowed retiree Frank Weld (the venerable Frank Langella) whose concerned, grown-up kids – harried business-type Hunter and hippie-dippy Madison – insist that a robot provides the homecare that they can’t, or perhaps won’t.

Initially, Frank is dismissive of the idea of cybernetic home help, even though the VGC-60L model supplied responds dutifully to his sometimes inadvertent commands.

It’s also soon apparent that siblings Hunter and Madison (James Marsden and Liv Tyler) have programmed the robot to ensure Frank eats well and looks after his health, which in itself increases his resentment.

However, Frank has a guilty secret: as an ex-burglar he yearns to get back into a trade that he’s become a bit too frail to handle, and soon realises that a robot accomplice, conveniently devoid of conventional moral qualms, could be very useful. An unlikely bond between man and machine is formed.

First on Frank’s bucket list is to use his illicit skills to help his one true friend, Susan Sarandon’s stoical librarian Jennifer, keep her job at the local library which is being digitally downgraded by cliché-spouting nerds, while also making off with a priceless copy of DonQuixote.

Langella, who’s best-known for playing Machiavellian political heavies in such fare as FROST/NIXON and Ivan Reitman’s Oscar-nominated DAVE, reveals a more vulnerable, even comical, side to his repertoire. And his robot co-star, performed by Rachael Ma and voiced by Peter Sarsgaard with a beguiling hint of humanity, is equal to his every, often unpredictable, utterance and foible.

Underpinning the great performances is a script by another talented newcomer, Christopher D. Ford, while Schreier’s assured direction avoids Hollywood stereotypes to create a gem of a movie that never quite goes where you think it’s headed.

- Mark Williams

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