Frankly, ‘Robot & Frank’ is a winner

Frank Langella isn't too happy in 'Frank & Robot'
Frank Langella isn’t too happy in ‘Frank & Robot’

In Robot & Frank, “Frank” (Frank Langella) is an older guy who lives alone and not too close to the nearest small town.  He has two adult children, “Hunter” (James Marsden) and “Madison” (Liv Tyler).  Hunter comes and visits with some frequency even though it’s a 10 hour round trip drive, while Madison is travelling abroad for work and can only phone Frank on the videophone.

Frank’s memory is going and he doesn’t want to go to the “memory center” to be treated, nor does he want to be put into an old folk’s home.  So Hunter comes up with the next best solution.  He purchases a health care robot to monitor Frank’s physical condition and to try to take care of him.  It will cook him a healthier diet, try to get him engaged in activities and in general, prevent Hunter from having to look in on his father quite so often.

It turns out that Frank has a past.  He’s divorced and no longer in touch with his ex-wife.  He did two terms in prison for burglary, something that he was once very, very good at.  He keeps up his interest in his old craft by shoplifting on occasion, although he doesn’t quite get away with it completely unnoticed.  He also loves going to the library and getting books to read, as well as visiting with the librarian “Jennifer” (Susan Sarandon).  The library is being renovated, with all of the books being scanned into the computer systems, so they can be read via computer rather than checked out like Frank has been doing.  Jennifer also points out that there is a very rare book in the library, an original copy of “Don Quixote” and that’s when Frank gets the idea.

Frank Langella in 'Robot & Frank'
Frank Langella in ‘Robot & Frank’

The idea to go back to his old trade, and get Robot (voice by Peter Saarsgard) to help him.  After all, it’s sure-handed and able to do things much faster and more accurately than he.  Things like trying out combinations on safes.  Picking locks.  It isn’t easy to talk the robot into going along with Frank’s plans, but he’s much more likely to get involved with robberies than he is with the robot’s attempts to get Frank into gardening or other activities it has tried and failed to get Frank interested in.

Meanwhile, Madison, who is opposed to the presence of the robot comes to visit, and uses the secret code she got from Hunter to deactivate the robot.  Frank had begun to get close to the robot and wants it back, but Madison refuses to bring it back online.  Only when she finally gives in and uses it to clean the house that has become a mess yet again, will she allow the robot to remain activated.

Ultimately, Frank successfully steals the rare book, and then begins planning to steal some very valuable jewels from some of the rich people who are involved with the renovation of the library.  But once he undertakes the first such burglary, he’s a suspect, in the eyes of the victim “Jake” (Jeremy Strong) and the local sheriff, “Sheriff Rowlings” (Jeremy Sisto, playing a very different type of cop than the one he portrayed for an extended period on TV’s “Law and Order”).

The evidence is well hidden.  But it turns out the best potential witness against Frank is the robot, whose memory is easily wiped.  However, Frank doesn’t want to do that.  He feels like that would be the same as losing his friend.  Will he wipe the memory?  Will he be caught?  Will the evidence ever be found?  All those questions are ultimately answered, but you’ll have to go see this very smart, well-written film to find them out for yourself.

Director Jake Schreier and writer Christopher Ford have combined here to deliver an excellent movie that engages its audience early on and holds their attention with a great story about how old age may someday impact any of us.  Frank’s cognitive dysfunction will resonate with anyone who has an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient in their extended family.  There’s a great plot twist that I won’t even hint at, because it’s just too good to spoil.  Just sit back and enjoy Robot and Frank.

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