ROBOT & FRANK
Robot & Frank is very different to what you expect of a science-fiction film. It is not big theatrics involving a race to save the world or lots in the way of visual effects and explosions. It is a small simple drama about the relationship between a man and a robot. The robot is not even an android in the vein of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94)s Data, Bicentennial Man (1999) or A.I. (2001). Nor is there any big story here about its gaining artificial intelligence or discovering feelings. Instead, the film is closely modelled on the current state of robotics. The robots intelligence and capacity has been extrapolated a few years in terms of advancement but none of its depiction ever goes beyond what a robot would be credibly expected to do in fact, you could say this is one of the most realistic portraits of a robot to have been placed on screen to date. (To emphasise the realism of what is being portrayed, several video clips of the current state of robotics play out over the end credits even if the actual robot on screen is not performed mechanically but by dancer Rachael Ma). Certainly, Robot & Frank does not neglect the usual ephemera of science-fiction it never lavishes a big budget on things but there are small touches in the design department such as the cars and holographic cellphones.
At heart, Robot & Frank is an Isaac Asimov Robot story. There is certainly more that adheres to Asimovs Robots here than there was in the official film version of I, Robot (2004). The difference might be that Asimov was never much concerned with the human characters in his stories, which were always stock and one-dimensional; rather his Robot stories deal with the logistical problems involved in creating a series of laws to control robot behaviour. Indeed, with its background theme of nostalgia and anti-progress represented by the library of books being rendered obsolete in the technological age Robot & Frank resembles more of a Ray Bradbury story. Maybe you could call it an Isaac Asimov Robot story as rewritten by Bradbury. Or perhaps something aking to the lovely Asimov-influenced anime Time of Eve (2010).
True to its indie film nature, the films focus is the relationship between the two characters, where its virtue is in playing this with a genteel and simple strength. Frank Langella gives a fine performance as the cantankerous aging burglar who refuses to admit he is losing his wits and eagerly leaps into the opportunity to conduct a big scheme again. The robot is simply a reactive presence, aiding and responding with a calm manneredness. Despite this, Jake Schreier manages to craft an endearing and warm relationship between the two of them. The rest of the cast all play capably and the film manages to get in solid appearances from current young names like James Marsden and Liv Tyler. The great Susan Sarandon, too often absent from screens these days, gives a sparkly performance as the love interest. The film moves out of its genteel relationship drama somewhat towards the end where there is the need to throw in a certain amount of running around, schemes with Frank Langella outwitting the authorities and twist revelations where it almost feels that the film was trying to hurry to wrap itself up.
Jake Schreier next went on to make Paper Towns (2015).
(Nominee for Best Actor (Frank Langella) at this sites Best of 2012 Awards).