Robot & Frank (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
1Sep/122

Robot & Frank (2012)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

As soon as I read the premise for Robot & Frank, I knew that someone had the right idea. "An old man teams up with his robot caretaker to commit a string of cat burglaries." I mean, how many possibilities lay in that sentence?

Surprisingly, there was a lot more there than I had even imagined. A meditation on memory and desire, Robot & Frank manages to touch on many subjects, play with a handful of themes, and remain warm and funny throughout.

This is all embodied in the performance of Frank Langella as Frank, a retired robber whose family is estranged. He's found himself at the beginning stages of Alzheimer's, and his son, Hunter (James Marsden), is sick of finding him in disarray. Hunter decides to buy him one of those newfangled robot butlers to help out around the house. Robot (voice of Peter Sarsgaard)puts Frank on a routine, saying that a hobby and a schedule will keep him sharp. Frank resists until he sees the robot's latent talent for burglary shine through.

A film about ROBOTS WATERING PLANTS. Danger abounds!

What's uncovered quickly is that Robot does something for Frank he's needed for a while: he listens. Robot has a great deal of patience (as robots must), and calmly responds to all of Frank's wild stories about his younger years, balancing robbery and his family and eventually prison. Frank has a lot of reckoning to do, and Robot is there to help him do it.

In the midst of this, the movie cleverly touches on a lot of other little themes that have to do with this not-too-distant future society, and how humanity is impacted by owning a vast army of slave robots. Frank's daughter, Madison (Liv Tyler), is a big proponent of humans doing their own work, and even threatens to leave Robot off permanently until she realizes what a boon it is to her father's happiness-- and how much more convenient it is.

Fear of the future reverberates through character's actions, as Robot is just the latest indication that all of the characters are approaching an area they are uncomfortable with. Interestingly, the character with the closest connection to nature is Robot, as he tends his own garden and insists on taking walks with Frank. But then these sort of connections do pop up in the movie: Madison is connected to the poor and downtrodden, Hunter to his family, and Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) to the local library.

Here's another place where we watch the future outpace the character's lives as a young, hip philanthropist named Jake (Jeremy Strong) remakes the library into a place with a bar and without books. Frank's desire to beat the living crap out of him was second only to my own.

Neither of these people are robots. As far as I know.

Frank ends up robbing the library of an aged copy of Don Quixote, which rather brilliantly sets up a number of parallels between the character and his view of the world. Frank, determined not to be old and decrepit, is tilting at windmills once more.

The difference here is that Sancho Panza isn't a proud illiterate but an inexperienced automaton.  As a creation, Robot is cautiously designed to be a singular unit with defined responsibilities and parameters. Frank and Jennifer try and get Robot to chat up the library's shelving unit, Mr. Darcy, at one point, and they get nothing. Robot doesn't believe Mr. Darcy exists; Robot is unsure that he technically exists. He hasn't been programmed to know that.

The film delves into this idea to divide life and death even further when, as a result of their criminal enterprises, that it may become necessary to wipe Robot's memory. Frank resists wholly, insisting that without memory, you may as well be dead. Robot is indifferent; it makes no difference to him. Frank's desires become increasingly out of self interest, as he thinks that everything he's taught and done with Robot are completely irreplaceable.

It turns out they may be; Frank's fear is justified, but he must overcome it and his lavish devotion to the past if he wants to reconnect to his family before it's too late.

BFFs

There's footage of modern robots and the wonders they can accomplish over the end credits. At first I thought this was a bit cheeky, but watching them ride bikes, serve drinks, and entertain, I realize it was actually another lesson the filmmakers were trying to impart. What we pass along and believe isn't harmless any more, and how we treat not only others but everything we create could determine our own fates.

The themes in the movie are delicate and fascinating, and the drama is touching. Robot & Frank makes the most of its premise, taking on the future, the human race, and everything we leave behind, whether we mean to or not.

Posted by Danny

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  1. awesome I was just about to request this one


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