Buddy films usually involve cops or thieves, who are forced by plot conventions to spend time together, cope with their differences and, finally, their similarities. Jack Schreier's "Robot & Frank" (2012) is one of those buddy films, with a different touch. The film takes place in the near future, where the phones are slick, and libraries are shutdown since books become obsolete. People drive faster cars and still eat the corn flakes. There is also no cure for Alzheimer's.
So, what kind of different buddy-film is this? Here, the veteran tough cop and his new rookie partners are replaced by a veteran burglar and his robot. Robot & Frank foresees a near future where elderly people are served by automated servants. Frank (Frank Langella) is cat burglar who has gotten too old and tired to continue in the line of work he loves. Not only he is old, he also has problems with memory. He is in the early stages of dementia, tries to remember the names of his children and suffers from other more startling lapses of recall. Frank has two kids -- Hunter (James Marsden) and Madison (Liv Tyler). His relationship with them isn't awful, considering what an absentee father he was. Hunter is a successful businessman. He lives far away, but visits his father at least once a week.
Madison travels to different countries and contacts Frank, often through video call. Frank is too proud to admit to his son that his forgetfulness is getting to be a problem. So, in order to help the old guy navigate his mostly housebound existence, Hunter buys the VCG-60L ((voiced by Peter Sarsgaard): a initial reaction is, "You're going to leave me with this death machine?", but later he grows to depend upon for help around the house and a whole lot more. He persuades the Robot that it would be very curative for him to rob an obnoxious millionaire (Jeremy Strong) who is privatizing the local library into a book-less community center. Fortunately for Frank, his new companion isn’t just programmed to obey the law, but also has an electronic super brain that gives him real potential as a safe-cracker.
Director Jack Schreier (his debut) is blessed with a smart script by C.D. Ford and an impressive cast. Ford has written a real gem here, mixing stock characters (a nosy police detective) with cleverly drawn ones (Susan Sarandon is the local librarian who keeps catching Frank's eye). Apart from the several good plot twists, a gracefully constructed metaphor about memory adds a bittersweet angle to the story. Schreier eludes from tipping the balance while developing the theme of technology's relationship with human interaction. His deft direction makes the relationship richer and more intelligent any other buddy-film.
Langella's performance turns the movie from a regular sci-fi drama trifle into something more: a movie about a proud, ornery man combating his fearfulness.If you take him out of this picture, it might become a schmaltzy character study. The film's more touching and nicely underplayed parts is the improvement Langella makes as he becomes re-engaged with life, even if he does so through crime. Frank also achieves an odd chemistry with the Robot. Sarsgaard's vocal performance deftly distinguishes the robot's pre-programmed remoteness with hints of human curiosity and deviousness.
Watch "Robot and Frank" for Langella's crafty performance and for the way this low-budget film uses sci-fi conceits to illuminate a human story (not the other way around).
Robot & Frank - IMDb