r o b o t & f r a n k
8th March 2013
Frank Langella, Robot
We're massive fans of
intelligent sci-fi. We’re not scared to call it sci-fi, we love sci-fi. And as
we all know, it doesn’t have to be set in space in a time where time travel is
possible in order for it to be sci-fi. Check out Charlie Brooker’s increasingly
impressive Black Mirror for details (we’d be ranting about how great the new
series of that is if we had a TV section. Which we don’t. So Charlie needs to
get on and make a proper cinema film if you please).
Robot & Frank is a superb piece of grown-up, intelligent science fiction. Set just far enough into the future so as to be noticeable, it tells the tale of an ex-jewel thief who spends his time alone at home, reading books from his local library and occasionally stealing novelty soap from the town store. When it becomes clear that Frank’s marbles are rattling around more than they should (a never specified Alzheimer’s-like illness), Frank’s son buys him a robot companion. Shenanigans ensue.
The more we think about this film, the more we think it is just excellent. Really, it’s so brilliantly simple and yet manages to present a world of emotional turmoil with such good nature and genuine humour that we defy you not to be touched by it. Frank’s initial repulsion at the idea of needing something to watch over him gradually turns to acceptance when the contrarian in him realizes that the robot can assist him in his plans to pull off one last heist. Or maybe two.
Langella is an inspirational piece of casting and it’s great to see him in this tiny budget picture. Acting alone for the majority of the shoot (the robot’s voice was added later), he manages to purvey Frank’s confusion and frustration at the world whilst also perfectly capturing his continuously mischievous spirit.
Jake Schreier’s first proper film (he is apparently ex of Francis and the Lights fame); he shows some great promise for future projects. He manages to stretch his $3 million budget impressively to keep us reminded that this is the future without ever having enough money to go beyond some neat mobile phone effects. He keeps the balance between humour and his relatively deep subject just right and we never for a second doubt Frank’s motives. The robot itself is simple enough to be realistic (it looks a lot like the Honda Asimo unit – but moves more like a human) and human feeling enough for you to believe Frank’s growing attachment to it.
Robot & Frank is more a film about what makes you who you are than it is about the effects of a degenerative mental illness and it therefore makes no attempt to give any details to Frank’s ailment. The twist (such as it is) seems a little unnecessary but doesn’t hurt the film, and the ending, whilst predictable, will still leave you dabbing your eyes and actually thinking. And that’s probably why we like this film so much. It takes a pretty well-trodden subject – what is it that makes you alive, and imbues it with more… well, life. Crafting a beautifully shot and acted film and filling it with laughter and life. We’re still thinking about this film as we type this review. And we watched it at the LFF. In October. According to IMDB, this has made $23,000 at the box office. We really hope it finds a market here when it’s released in March because on this evidence, Schreier deserves to make more films.