What happens when a jewel thief retires?
If you’re Frank Ward (Frank Lanagella) you spend your nights breaking into your own home. Maybe it’s because you don’t want your lock-picking skills to get rusty. Or maybe it’s because you’re losing your memory and forget it was your house?
“Robot and Frank” is the sweet, and sometimes heart wrenching, story of an aging thief looking for a way to feel relevant in the world. Set in the near future, Frank’s son is worried about his father and brings him a robotic personal health care aide, aptly named Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard).
Frank fights with Robot at every turn until he realizes that Robot wasn’t programmed to have morals or ethics and his only purpose was to care for Frank’s well-being. Frank exploits this by teaching Robot to pick locks and case houses. Robot sees it as a hobby that Frank seems to enjoy more than gardening so he goes with it.
I’m a big fan of independent movies simply because you never know what you’re going to get. It could be a pompous, pretentious pile of crap from a film school dropout who can’t focus the camera lens because it looks fine from behind their hipster glasses. Or it could be a quirky story with heart that showcases the humanity of a robot.
Kenneth Turan, a critic for the “Los Angeles Times,” commented on how well first-time filmmakers writer Christopher D. Ford and director Jake Schreier mixed with well-respected actors like Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon.
He writes, “Though most indie filmmakers gravitate toward stories about the agonies of being under 30, old souls Schreier and Ford have made a film that deals, in the most good-humored way, with age, vulnerability and the need to always be of use in your own life.”
The audience follows Frank on this journey and you’re rooting for him the entire time. This cranky old man begins to feel like your grandfather and it breaks your heart to see his mind slowly slipping away. And a twist-ending that almost hurts it’s so good.
But it’s not all tears and drama. There are plenty of laughs too. The relationship between Frank and Robot is what drives the film and while they don’t agree at first they soon become friends. Well, technically Robot becomes Frank’s friend. Since Robot isn’t a person he’s not really programmed to make friends.
Langella is cast perfectly as the titular character. He’s the right mix of old curmudgeon and sweet teddy bear. Susan Sarandon, as the town librarian and Frank’s only human friend, is a good counterpart. She too is trying to adapt to an all-digital world and misses a simpler way of life.
James Marsden and Liv Tyler, as Frank’s children, create a family dynamic with depth. They know their father’s past missteps with the law and are angry. But also, he’s their dad and they want to take care of him.
“Robot and Frank” is a well made movie about a not-so-distant future. It’s an incredibly human story about a man trying to cling to the only life he remembers with the help of his robot buddy. If you get a chance, it’s definitely worth a watch.