Thursday, 21 March 2013

Robot & Frank

I saw trailers for Robot & Frank close to a year ago and the movie was released in America last August but only arrived on our shores this month. I saw it on a recent flight the same week it came out in UK cinemas. I was intrigued by the premise and have a thing for Science Fiction movies set in the near future. I was also annoyed at having to wait such a long time to see the movie when there seems no reason for such a long delay between US and UK release dates. Now I’ve finally seen the movie all my excitement was unnecessary. While occasionally interesting and often funny, the movie loses its way by the half way mark and I lost interest soon after.

The plot revolves around a retired jewel thief called Frank (Frank Langella) who is suffering from the early stages of dementia. His days are filled with pottering about his house and involve daily trips to his ageing library in which he is pretty much the only patron. It is at the library that he maintains his one and only friendship with Librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon). Frank receives weekly visits from his successful son Hunter (James Marsden) who decides to buy his father a robot butler/companion to ease his chores and help to keep his memory in check. Frank initially rejects the robot but soon learns it might help him pull off one final job.

When the movie began I instantly fell for Frank. I thought he was a great character who Frank Langella got spot on. He was a typical grumpy old man struggling with the modern world, a character we can all relate to and/or know and the angry old man bit was very funny and also sometimes quite sweet. He became even funnier after the introduction of the robot. Water nearly shot out of my nose when the robot suggested a day of gardening to which Frank replied in monotone, “Oh, fuck this shit”. The film features a couple of relationships which I invested in heavily but both conclusions left me cold. I found the half romance between Frank and Jennifer very cute but didn’t enjoy a late reveal or the closure. The second relationship I loved was that between the robot and Frank. This began as an awkward stand off between something that is there to be active and a man who refuses to but developed into quite a friendship.

Something I’d like to have seen explored in more detail was the robot’s personality. Early on it is made obvious that the robot has a personality and is capable of lying and recognising when in a grey area morally rather than just simply seeing right and wrong. The robot was capable of humour and conversation and even bordered on cheekiness at times. Unfortunately the ‘character’ wasn’t developed at all and as a result the development relies on Frank’s story which becomes less interesting as the movie progresses. It should also be said that the character of the robot is played sublimely by Peter Sarsgard. He plays the part in a similar way to Kevin Spacey in Moon and in fact was so close to that performance that I actually wrote in my notes about how good Spacey is at playing robots, assuming without prior knowledge that Spacey was in fact the actor. Although the two leads perform admirably, the rest of the cast make no impact whatsoever. Susan Sarandon has good chemistry with Frank Langella and is a compelling screen presence but her role could have been played equally well by anyone else. James Marsden is instantly forgettable and both Liv Tyler and Jeremy Sisto are miscast. I don’t buy Tyler’s eco warrior, human rights traveller character and Sisto doesn’t make a good cop despite playing one on a TV show.

Half way through Robot & Frank it was heading towards about an 8/10 score but something happens shortly after the halfway point where I just lost interest. What annoys me is that I can’t place what it is. Whether it’s Langella being less grumpy, the introduction of new characters, a surprise reveal, Liv Tyler’s introduction or a combination of all of them, something took me out of the film. It’s a real shame because I was enjoying the movie a lot up to that point. The central caper and robberies were generally quite fun and I thought that the technological advances were realistic but when more stuff starts happening, we spend less time with just the central pair and this is a mistake. Frank Langella is excellent and the robot's design and movement is very good but A poor ending seals the film’s coffin and left me feeling disappointed overall despite the good beginning and interesting concept.      


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