Robot & Frank (2012)
Friendship doesn't have an off switch.
I wanted to get one more movie out there at the end of 2013, and Robot & Frank has been sitting in my queue to watch for a solid month or so now. A new year is for some a rather serious note, and the last movie didn't feel quite party enough to be a "out with a bang" or serious enough to represent the hopes for the coming year. Welcome then a tale about a man and his robot, where we are reminded that just because something is new doesn't mean we should abandon the old.
Frank (Frank Langella) is getting old, and his memory is only getting worse as time goes on. His old habits and job of being a cat burglar, on the other hand, seem to be sticking rather strong to ole Frank. His daughter is never around - travelling for her job - and his son is growing tired of making a 10 hour round trip once a week to try and take care of his father. On his most recent trip the son feels that he finally has a remedy for the situation - a robot aide to try and make sure that Frank is well taken care of and eliminate the need for that weekly round trip so he can spend more time with his own kids.
As our story progresses, Robot (who goes un-named the entire film and is voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) starts to grow on Frank as a friend and buddy in crime (literally). Turns out, the little robotic helper will do pretty near anything to try and help Frank be as healthy as he can - including going to the extent of planning and executing heists as an activity to help improve Franks memory. Along the way, a few hiccups come up, a couple of twists and turns, and by the end the story should very well have you by your heart-strings. If it doesn't anyways, you might not be human.
There isn't a lot of action in this movie, which isn't to say that the pace is plodding or that entertainment value is low. It's a movie that works with characters, and through characters tells a narrative (which to me at least felt rather compelling). It's a bit hard to picture an aging "master thief" getting back in the game with any sort of success, and yet we watch as Frank goes about this and at the same time forms a bond with his robotic cohort. We see the interactions between the family of Frank and himself, and although we never see any flashbacks or anything of the sort to have it hand-fed to us we get a pretty solid feel for the family dynamic. The plot proceeds with a purpose, and if ever it's slow it I didn't notice thanks to the solid emphasis on characters rather than flashy action or (in the case of a movie such as The Hobbit) long drawn out interactions that feel as though they could just be discarded and the movie wouldn't be hurt the slightest.
Acting here is done wonderfully, to the extent that some reveals at the tail end of the movie come off as a complete surprise. Robot, although lacking of "life" or any aesthetic embellishments, comes off as a very real character just as distinct as Frank himself. Supporting cast help bring the movie to a polished state, acting well enough that I could associate the experience Frank is having on screen to my own interactions with some of the "newer generations" of folks out there. Lines are delivered well, and I find myself draw into the movie to an extent that I don't recall any music being there, although the back of my mind tells me that I know I heard some somewhere while watching this.
Memory loss, although it's funny to joke about, really is a rather serious matter. It hit's a bit home more for me (a guy who's admittedly got a terrible memory) than maybe most, but the portrayal in this movie seems to hit both sides of that nail right on the head. Family issues are touched upon in a few heartfelt moments, but don't seem as though they got so much focus that it turned the mood darker than it had to be. The "out with the old, in with the new" mentality is also visited, showcased primarily by the dealings with the library getting turned into something very much unlike a library, but also in part with how Frank is treated by his kids.
It's pretty compelling stuff really, at least for me. By the end, it has me hooked and legitimately interested in the characters of Frank and the Robot, and when the ending comes along it bares its fangs and moves in for the kill. I wasn't entirely sure what to think of this movie going off it's description, which makes it sound more like a comedy, but in the long run am glad I tuned in to it. The scenery used for the shots are beautiful, and the computerized elements (such as the phone calls and high-tech devices) are all well done without being overly-futuristic. The robotic members of the cast all look very much as though they are part of a progression of robots that already exists (some of which is shown during the credit reel).
In the long run, this is one that I can recommend to people looking for a rather character-driven movie. It might not appeal to the explosions and high-octane crowd, and there isn't a whole lot of comedy getting passed around in this one, but it's not everyday that I can tell people who are into drama that I've got a decent recommendation for them. If any of the review makes you feel interested, go ahead and check it out, and feel free to let me know if you are satisfied with it or not. I can't guarantee that you'll enjoy the movie as much as I did, but if it can elicit a bit of a reaction out of me then it must at least be a pretty darn good drama.