robot and frank

Art & Culture

I have been looking forward to seeing this film ever since I was unable to catch it during Bath Film Festival in November, but somehow it never quite lived up to my expectations. It’s nice, but not much more.

Frank (Frank Langella) is a grumpy old ex-burglar living on his own in the woods in upstate New York. He has memory issues. His son Hunter (James Marsden) drives 5 hours each way every week to see him, but feels that he’s wasting his time, since Frank continues to live in squalor, without meaning or purpose to his life – apart from insisting he’s all right. His daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) phones in from remote parts of the world, expressing concern without actively contributing anything. And there is a woman at the local library, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), who seems to be his only regular point of human contact.

Then one day Hunter arrives with a large white object in the boot of his car. It’s a robot (I didn’t mention that the film is set in the near future), which Hunter has acquired to look after Frank, though needless to say Frank doesn’t want a carer/robot. But once he discovers that robot (he has no name) has not been equipped with a moral conscience, he realises that he has the perfect assistant to resume his life of crime, and the two start to bond over burglary.

That’s about the sum of the plot, though there is a twist I didn’t see coming, and a narrative thread that gives some impetus to the film. There is a fusion of genres here. It’s a buddy movie, a crime/caper movie, a parent/child movie and a film about age and memory. My question is whether there are too many strands to make up a coherent whole. And also whether the relationship between Frank and the robot (which is the central one of the film) is sufficient to sustain our attention. Frank is an interesting enough character, irritable, impatient, dishonest, but more or less sympathetic, in the absence of anyone else to care about. But robot (though well voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) is not a human being, nor fully credible, so that we don’t have an awful lot to get involved in. The two children – apart from being preternaturally beautiful – are pretty two dimensional, and Sarandon, excellent as always, isn’t given a lot to do.

I wouldn’t discourage you from going to see this film, if you like the sound of it, but dampen your expectations, and you’ll probably find it more enjoyable.


Phil Raby