Frank (Langella) is an ageing former jewel thief who is slowly going senile. His children Hunter (Marsden) and Madison (Tyler) both live far away so in order to put his mind to rest, Hunter gets Frank a robot helper, who is voiced by Peter Sarsgaard, to aid with basic tasks around the house and attempt to stimulate his decaying mind. Initially sceptical, Frank soon realises that the robot can help him to return to his criminal ways and the two begin a mini crime spree in their small town.
While Robot & Frank is very much a sci-fi film, it is that increasingly rare kind of sci-fi film which isn’t all lasers and explosions, but merely how our lives might be in the near future. Here the near future looks very similar, but with a lot more robot helpers and cool looking mobile phones, it is a totally believable reality. Quite frankly if in my twilight years I am not ably assisted by a robot helper I will be thoroughly irritated that science took its inspiration from Jurassic Park more than it did from Short Circuit.
The main focus of the story though is not on the science fiction elements, but it is a story about an ageing man who attempts to cling onto his younger years while his mind is failing him. As the film progresses, Frank becomes noticeably more forgetful and erratic and one scene in the final third absolutely broke my heart. It is a tremendous performance from Langella, at times full of life and energy as he plans the next heist with his robot, but then looking lost as his son explains that he is no longer at college and Frank’s wife no longer lives with him. He brilliantly flips between these two versions of Frank, showcasing the crushing reality of having a relative who is slowly forgetting who they are.
The relatively short run time does give away the fact that this film is a little bit of a one-trick pony and occasionally I found my mind wandering, but there are some really great ideas here and great central performance, ably supported by Tyler, Marsden and Susan Sarandon. A clever and touching film about growing old and friendship. Friendship with a robot.
EXTRAS ★★½ An audio commentary with director Schreir and screenwriter Ford; an interview with Schreir and star Langella (5:24); and the theatrical trailer.