Thursday, March 14, 2013

Flick of the Day: Robot and Frank

Ageing is only very rarely dealt with in cinema and even rarer still is for it to be looked at in any kind of positive light. To lose one's faculties is to lose ones grip on reality or the ability to lead any kind of reasonable life or so the movies would have you believe. Today's flick of the day, Robot and Frank, is that rare event and while not detaching itself entirely from reality manages to be funny, charming and sad. 
In the near future, Frank Langella is an ageing cat burglar who is beginning to lose track of his thoughts on a regular basis. He finds himself wandering through his remote up-state New York home not quite sure of where he is. His house is a mess and he has begun to miss meals and misplace his children's names. He spends his days wandering into town to visit the library to pick up books to read and flirt with the librarian Jennifer, played by  an excellent Susan Sarandon. His son Hunter, played by James Marsden, comes up with the ingenious idea of an expensive next generation robot who has been programmed to look after Frank and keep his memory from deteriorating further much to Frank's irritation. Alone in his rambling old house with his new robot nurse, Frank initially rails against this electronic interloper. However gradually as he gets used to the rhythm of life, he becomes attached to the robot. He soon realises that his new friend can be used for more nefarious means and the possibility of one last big score presents itself. He trains Robot to pick locks and case potential robberies. Frank is determined that together they will pull off another job despite the best efforts of his free spirited daughter Madison, played by Liv Tyler, who attempts to remove Robot and move in with Frank in an attempt to assuage her own guilt.
This film is very funny at times, finding humour in many of the little foibles of Frank's life without ever seeming to laugh at him. His self involved children are perfectly drawn characters and the story is relevant to us all given the way we all try to hive off ageing and the aged into a particular corner of society. However, the real joy and pathos of the film is the relationship between Frank and Robot, voiced by the talented Peter Sarsgaard, while Robot continues to remind Frank that he is not human, Frank begins to develop a friendship with him and as they spend more time together, he becomes increasingly protectful as he begins to rely on Robot and by the end of the film does not wish to part from him regardless of the cost.
Langella gives a wonderful performance as Frank, a man unwilling to comes to terms with effects of getting older. He is nuanced in how he handles the ups and downs of the script and displays perfect comic timing. It is at times a master class in how to act a part with subtlety, wit and a sly charm. Kudos also to Sarsgaard whose voice of Robot brings the character to life and gives him a presence on the screen. 
The film is full of laughs but yet is possessed of a great heart and can only leave you feeling wistful at the end for Frank and Robot. A genuinely unexpected triumph, I urge you to see it if you get a chance. It shines a light on ageing and memory loss without being trite or overly sentimental yet gives you two characters whose company you will delight in.

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