Robot & Frank is a tale about an elderly man and his domestic android. It could almost be an incidental story about one of the early robots that was developed on the way to Skynet triggering worldwide thermonuclear war, or before V.I.K.I found a handy loop hole in The Three Laws of Robotics. Perhaps the creation of this model of robot was significant in the development of the technology that allowed the Tyrell Corporation to create sentient replicants. Viewed like this the film is the equivalent of seeing a little character piece centred around some innocuous Dodo John Hammond genetically engineered before he worked out how to do dinosaurs and it is utterly charming.
So we don’t get the bangs and crashes, no one gets eaten and there is no race to change the future. Instead we get a very gentle story set in the near future about someone with dementia and the automated servant that helps him relive the adventures of his past. I’m reluctant to say much more than that because there are some nice points surrounding those adventures but this is a delightful and involving piece of cinema.
Frank Langella as Frank is excellent and has a sweet little relationship with librarian Jennifer played by the inimitable Susan Sarandon. Her character is used to tell a little side story of how technology is bringing about the end of printed literature, a subplot that will be pertinent to all those people who still like having a book in their hands and one that is nicely indicative of this robot movie’s attitude to technology.
Unlike bigger sci-fi parables Robot and Frank gives us a measured and appropriate view of the potential advances in robotics and computing. It shows that progression in this area stands to improve our lives while fully acknowledging that there might be some cost to this. This is a minor emotional cost though, not a cost to our freedom caused by the all powerful machines we have blindly created plotting to overthrow us. This is refreshing for a Hollywood take on technology and much more reflective of people’s real attitudes; I like my tumble dryer that automatically turns itself off when the clothes are done and I don’t think it deserves to be mistrusted because it is smart enough to do that one little trick.
Joining Langella and Sarandon in the cast are Liv Tyler and James Marsden but, despite this film being an interesting addition to their résumés, they are both playing pretty stock characters. Special mention needs to go to Peter Sarsgaard though, for the best automated voice since Paul Bettany’s Jarvis. He is perfectly able to sound properly sarcastic, judgemental or sanctimonious while speaking in a completely expressionless, monotone computer voice (in that way familiar to anyone who has ever heard a Satnav ‘recalculating’).
Robot and Frank is well worth a trip to the cinema but would be equally endearing on a smaller screen. You should see it at some stage though, it’s just lovely.
Is this one for the kids?
Robot and Frank is a 12A but only due to some occasional swearing. There is nothing here to worry older children or their parents unless you have a particularly strict moral code when it comes to stealing… or swearing.