Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Robot and Frank was one of my more anticipated movies of the fest. I mean, Frank Langella as an aging cat burglar teams up with robot voiced by Peter Saarsgard to pull off a multi-million dollar heist. How could this movie not be amazing?
I’m worried this film fell victim to my preconceived notions of what it would be. It’s true that we’re supposed to go into movies as a pure blank slate, but that’s just not how I am as a person. I get hyped for movies, I follow certain actors, writers, directors and cinematographers and get excited for their new work, have a few actors, writers and directors who I expect the worst from and those expectations do play a part of my point of view when I go into a movie.
In other words, I’m just like every theater-goer and so are most critics even if they huff and puff about being a complete blank slate before every movie they see.
That doesn’t mean I don’t give every movie a chance. Of course I do. I want to like every single thing I sit down to watch because that’s a helluva lot more fun to sit through than a huge piece of shit.
Robot and Frank is not a huge piece of shit by anybody’s definition. It’s a smart near-future sci-fi buddy flick with some real emotion and great performances. But it’s more about Langella’s character’s deteriorating mind than about him and the robot pulling off rad heists.
I can’t really hold it against the movie that it wasn’t the one I wanted when I walked in. That’s not the film’s fault, that’s mine, but fair or not that had an effect on how I viewed the film.
Langella knocks it out of the park, as should be expected, and gets to play a wide range as “Frank.” He gets to be the joyfully cantankerous bastard, he gets to be the slick badass lockpicking thief, he gets to be the sympathetic deteriorating old man, he gets to be the teacher passing on his knowledge in a way he couldn’t do with his own children. There’s a lot here for Langella to sink his teeth in to and he attacks it like that werewolf attacked Griffin Dunne.
The buddy aspect of the movie is flawless. Langella’s initial hatred of this expensive robot helper and Saarsgard’s calm responses to the loud, vulgar name-calling are perfect comedy fodder. The design of the robot, looking a little like the toy robot recently brought back as “’80s Robot” in The Muppets, with a black visor for a face also helps that early rocky relationship. Langella would get all upset and scream his at this robot and he might as well be screaming at a blank wall.
As the friendship develops Langella sees a little humanity in the robot, which the filmmakers keep purposefully vague. Is this Robot Johnny Five, evolving past his programming, or HAL-like with its personality developing within its set parameters? There can be arguments made for both. The optimist in me likes to think Robot was its own sentience, but if I’m to be honest I think the Robot was just doing its duty within the boundaries of its programming.
The movie hits a bit of a roadblock with me when Liv Tyler, playing Frank’s lefty-liberal daughter shows up and shuts down the robot about halfway through the movie. The movie is called Robot and Frank and for what felt like 20 minutes it’s just Frank. Tyler’s character feels more like a plot driver than an actual character, so she’s not much of a replacement for the bot.
If the movie had been more the way I was hoping it’d be we would have seen quite a few heists or one really massive one, like a ‘60s heist movie that builds to a crazy robbery like How To Make A Million or The Italian Job. Langella is the brains and the robot starts out as his tool and becomes his honest to God partner. That relationship and the planning and execution of the two heists they pull off in the movie were, in my view, the most successful parts of the film and I would have killed to have seen them go that route.
So, I was pulling for the movie to go one way and it intended to go the other. I can understand that and I really can’t hold that against the filmmakers. For me personally it didn’t live up to its potential, but I can’t deny that director Jake Schreirer and writer Christopher Ford succeeded at what they were trying to do. With a cast including James Marsden playing the concerned son and Susan Sarandon as the librarian that flirts with Frank there’s just a whole lot of really talented people giving every plot turn true emotion.
I liked what was there, but hoped it’d be something a bit more. I know that’s not quite a cut and dry review, but so goes my opinion on this one.
Reviews coming up: mumblecore thriller Black Rock, Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber follow-up Wrong and Rodrigo Cortez’s Buried follow-up Red Lights.