Jul 29, 2013

[Movies] Robot & Frank (2012)

You know I like robots - the title of this movie alone piqued my interest. Throw in some rather interesting casting choices and robot that nicely echoes the ASIMO robot created by Honda (love the aesthetic!) and so this movie was definitely added to my queue.

But don't get me wrong - I do not love absolutely every single movie that involves a robot in it. That would be a horrible exaggeration of my interest in robots and how they are presented in popular media. But this turned out to be a pretty good one, so hurrah for my interest in robotics.

I thought I understood what Robot & Frank was about - we were going to explore an old man developing a personal relationship with a robotic caretaker. But like most movies, our impressions from a synopsis or a trailer was just so not the actual work product. And the ability of movies to surprise us like this time and time again is part of the magic of the whole experience. And it's why I'm so passionate about movies and why I actually take the time to post these reviews to begin with.

Synopsis: Robot & Frank is a 2012 drama movie, albeit set in moderately near future. It was directed by Jake Schreier with a screenplay by Christopher Ford - both first-timers in the film industry. The movie also won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

At the center of our movie is Frank (Frank Langella), a man in his older years who is already suffering from mental deterioration and dementia, and thus is in need of more permanent care. His children are all grown up and living their own lives and so his son Hunter (James Marsden) then purchases a robot companion (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) to act as his caretaker and to help relieve him of his obligatory week visits to his father.

Naturally Frank is first opposed to this robot in his life, especially with the robot trying to strictly regular his diet and schedule in order to provide him a full routine to address his mental issues. But one thing leads to another and Frank discovers that the robot has little to no understanding of working within the confines of the law. And thus we discover more about Frank's past as a burglar and thus how he sees that the robot could actually serve a different purpose as an accomplice in his return to crime.

So yes, somehow this movie actually is about an old man using a robot to commit crime. But don't expect this to be caper after caper - that's an unrealistic expectation. The movie did a great job of covering the build-up before getting to that point, which is a big part of why it worked. But I think I'm getting a little ahead of myself in terms of how I want to discuss this movie.

So first, Frank Langella was just perfect for this role. The man is a brilliant actor and has demonstrated his ability to handle all types of roles over the years. This particular role demanded the unique mix of being the kindly older man slowly losing his memory but still the savvy burglar with a definite knack for crime. And he shines the most when working with this robotic character on-screen as he trains the robot to perform various tasks essential for his crimes.

I love Susan Sarandon given her stunning movie career as well and she was an interesting note in this movie. I feel like her character could have been better developed and thus better written overall, but Sarandon certainly made sure to perform her role to the best of her ability. The rest of the cast was a bit inconsequential - but this was more because of the lack of development for their characters as opposed to their acting. At the end of the day, Frank and the robot were really what were most central to the plot.

Peter Sarsgaard was an investing vocal choice for the robot - it sort of had that edge of being something akin to HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey but still a bit kinder as well. But the way he was written and eventually portrayed through the use of a very realistic costume, given there was actually a person inside that robot. And a lot of the nuances and complexities of this movie were realized through this one character.

The overall premise was certainly interesting, as I said, although some aspects of the plot could have been a bit tighter. Part of me wishes for more foreshadowing for later revelations, especially surrounding the character of the librarian (Sarandon). But we really can't be overly choosy in this regard and can only judge the movie for what it managed to accomplish instead of what we hoped it had done.

The movie has a nice light tone, a good message to deliver and the lack of a heavy moral hand in terms of portraying the near future. I wouldn't necessarily say that it's happy movie given there's a somberness to it that sort of acts as an undercurrent to the whole tale, but it's not exactly a weep-fest that will send you curled into a ball under your blanket.

I genuinely enjoyed Robot & Frank and I think it was rather well executed as a movie, regardless of the relative inexperience of the folks behind it. What I'm trying to say here is that I'm not grading this movie on a curve - it truly does represent an interesting story presented rather well. And thus I'm glad to rate this movie as 4 "deals" that the robot tries to negotiate with Frank out of a possible 5.

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