Robot & Frank | Movie review
Frank Langella plots a heist with a robot. It’s not as silly as it sounds.
One mark of a great actor is the ability to lend emotional credibility to material that, in less capable hands, might come across as completely ridiculous. That’s exactly what Frank Langella does in Robot & Frank, which on paper sounds like a parody of feel-good-movie conventions. In a “near future,” when artificial servants have become commonplace, retired jewel thief Frank (Langella) bristles under the care of a child-size robotic butler (voiced, unrecognizably, by Peter Sarsgaard). The mechanical man is a gift from Frank’s son (James Marsden), who fears his father’s mind has started to go. Initially resentful of his bossy house-bot, Frank gradually warms to the machine—especially when he discovers that its programming doesn’t include any anti-theft imperatives.
You might think you know where the movie is headed from here; if your theory includes a robot-abetted heist sequence, you’re not totally off. What’s surprising is the way Langella, refusing to place tongue in cheek, injects this potentially absurd scenario with real pathos. Set aside the buddy-comedy angle, and Robot & Frank is a reasonably thoughtful film about the onset of dementia. Somewhat boldly, the filmmakers resist outright humanizing Frank’s robotic companion, which continuously insists it does not have consciousness. Whatever empathy we feel for this hunk of hardware is a reflection of Langella’s fondness for it. Maybe the movie should just have been titled Frank.