In the near future, Frank is a retired catburglar living alone while his successful son, Hunter, tries to care for him from afar. Finally, Hunter gets him a robot caretaker, but Frank soon learns that it is as useful as a burglary aide. As Frank tries to restart his old profession, the uncomfortable realities of a changing world and his worsening dementia threaten to take beyond what any reboot can do for him. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Robot and Frank is a sweet and tender drama, set in what it proclaims to be "the near future," about a retired cat-burglar, responsible for several crimes that were said to rob the insurance criminals and the robot that is placed in his life as a caregiver when he becomes no longer able-bodied enough to do so. The man is Frank (Frank Langella), an ex-convict beginning to experience dementia/Alzheimer's like symptoms. His son, Hunter (James Marsden), is tired of commuting ten hours round-trip on a weekly basis to care for his father, so to assure his safety and health, he buys him a slick domestic robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), which is programmed to help the elderly in their daily activities. The bot also promotes a rather therapeutic lifestyle, emphasizing healthy eating habits and cognitive exercises to restore and maintain brain activity. I can only hope these things become available publicly in the near future.
As expected, Frank is hesitant to use the robot, finding it useless since he sees himself as capable to take care of himself. Yet when he realizes that the robot doesn't have the conscious ability to distinguish ethical behavior from illegal behavior, Frank believes he can get back into the petty-crime business and use the robot as a lock-picking device. Their first crime involves stealing a rare antique book from the local library, which is looking to overhaul its print media format in favor of the digital age. The librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), who Frank begins to develop a small little crush on, is dismayed, but coping with the loss of print books in the world, so Frank believes that his effort to save one of the rarest books of all time will make her a bit happier.
A subplot involves Frank's daughter Madison (Liv Tyler), who works on-location in Turkmenistan, coming to visit him shortly after Hunter gives him the robot, to show that human-care is the best care of all and that robots can not provide a human with the same kind of love a human can. She possesses something of the opinion Frank held before this robot came into his life, and we wonder if she will come out changed like him.
The "near future" presented is the kind of near future that we ourselves can kind of predict, rather than it being a Jetsons-esque utopia. All cars have a "Smart Car" built towards them if the "Smart Car" was compressed and made leaner (they look like a twenty-five mile-an-hour wind can blow them over), digital media is taking over in places like libraries, phone calls are made through the TV in a Skype-like format, and the aforementioned domestic robot has become something of a standard. This is the second most favorable aspect to this film, next to the relationship Frank has with his robot. The world the film erects is pragmatic and easily-likable. It doesn't require the suspension of disbelief. It might have if this was made in the 1990's. Libraries going away? Yeah, right.
The film sweetly gives us a parable on how aging and caregiving may be changed in the next few years, with the influx of technology and the possibilities for in-home care with robots. As foreign as this sounds, it isn't far from likely. American citizens, especially the elderly, have had a terrifically tough time adapting to a world that is changing faster than many can keep up, and this film details that. We see Frank is more in-tuned with technology than many others his age, but he may be one of the lucky ones. If there's anything to take away from Robot and Frank, it's that there will be a frightening increase of new and a depressing decrease of old. Life as we know it may not be as simple as it once was - one of the downsides to technological advances.
Many of the film's ideas and actions, such as humanizing a burglar, constructing a believable world where robots have become dependable caregivers, and injecting a very small love story, all work with the gentle direction of Jake Schreier and the thoughtful, sympathetic writing by Christopher D. Ford. This is a premise that shouldn't work as well as it does, but there are many smart people in front of and behind the camera, assuring greatness with every shot. As it ended, I kind of wanted to see it again, which is a high compliment to pay to a movie.
Starring: Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Susan Sarandon, and Peter Sarsgaard. Directed by: Jake Schreier.
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