Frank Langella is a retired burglar in the near future. Living alone in a wooded suburb, he fills his day by flirting with Susan Sarandon, a local librarian who’s losing her job on account of the fact that nobody reads books anymore. He also dabbles in petty shoplifting; though you get the impression he only does out of nostalgia for the days when he used to nab diamonds. He’s also starting to show signs of severe dementia: he forgets that his adult son isn’t in college anymore and his house has become wasteland of old clutter and unwashed plates.
To keep him company and help him around the house, the son (James Marsden) buys him a helper robot programmed to keep him engaged and healthy. Being a crabby old dude, Frank is reluctant to take orders from the robot to eat healthier and take up gardening as a hobby. But when he discovers that the robot would be an ideal accomplice for burgling the homes of his rich and snooty neighbours, the two of them strike up a friendship, of sorts.
The robot looks a lot the Asimo android that Honda made a few years back, which could do little more than wave and play football badly. Voiced by Peter Sarsgaard, it speaks in calm measured tones like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey or Kevin Spacey’s GERTY from Moon. The effect is quite menacing and certainly helps us understand why Frank would be so mistrustful of it at first.
Langella, now well into his 70s is still putting in some vital work after his Oscar-nominated turn in Frost/Nixon a few years back. He’s playing the kind of lovable curmudgeon that you see in just about every movie and TV show, but there is a lot going on behind his eyes and he manages to squeeze all sorts of subtext out of his character. His scenes with Sarandon are particularly sweet and their courtship-of-sorts plays out like a teen romance. Plus, on a side note: she is looking absolutely stunning for une femme d’un certain age!
Like all good science fiction, Robot and Frank uses a fantastical set-up to take a look at aspects of the human condition. In this case, the film deals with some of the same themes as Michael Haneke’s Amour but sugar coats it to make the subjects of dementia and regret slightly more palatable. That’s not to say that it’s fluffy and trite; it’s the kind of smart, relatable and warm film that independent filmmakers need to make more of.
Robot and Frank is now available at blinkbox