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Film review: ROBOT AND FRANK, from Built For Speed

Robot and Frank is an unusual but entrancing mix of sci-fi and crime caper which touchingly explores relationships, the uncertainties of a changing world and what it means to be human.

Set some time in the near future, the film stars Frank Langella as the elderly former cat burglar Frank who is slowly succumbing to the ravages of Alzheimer’s.  To assist him, his son (James Marsden) gives him a domestic servant robot (eloquently voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) that looks like a mini-spaceman. The unnamed robot is meant to be a companion, butler and physical therapist for Frank but the supposedly retired cat burglar has other intentions for the multi-skilled robot.

This film is a small gem for a number of reasons not least of which is the quietly authoritative performance from Frank Langella who makes Frank a very likeable rogue.  Despite his mental deterioration Frank’s still a wily old customer who’s ability to plan crimes and concoct schemes to extricate himself from trouble are both clever and amusing.  Like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino he can be a contemptuous grump but still endearing. I particularly enjoyed the way he instantly despised the slimy yuppie who was destroying his favourite library.

Even though he occasionally sounds like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Peter Sarsgaard lends the robot qualities that make him as charming as any of the human characters particularly when he verbally jousts with the irascible Frank.  Susan Sarandon also delivers her typical high quality performance as the local librarian who Frank fancies.

The film cleverly integrates futuristic technology with a familiar world as transparent phones and odd looking cars pop up amid a folksy small town milieu.  In so doing the film subtly but unnervingly shows how the world Frank knows is turning into an alien place.  The film balances this serious theme of diminishing identity, with a sense of fun and a few jokes at the robot’s expense such as when Frank tests the robot’s capacity to conduct a conversation with one of his cybernetic brothers.

A couple of minor script issues such as an unconvincing twist toward the end detract slightly from this film but overall this is a charming, funny, thoughtful and touching look into a potential future.

 

Nick’s rating: Four stars.

Classification: M

Director(s): Jake Schreier

Release date: 15th Nov 2012

Running time: 89 mins.

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