Monday, November 11, 2013

Robot & Frank (2012)(Spoiler Review)

**This review contains spoilers**

In the near future, an elderly and retired cat burglar named Frank Weld (Frank Langella) lives alone in a messy house buried deep in the woods of Cold Spring, Ney York. Frank, suffering from a severe case of dementia, constantly refuses his son, Hunter’s (James Marsden) offers to seek help. But Hunter is tired of taking ten hour trips to visit and check up on Frank, so Hunter gives Frank two non-negotiable options. Option one, Frank can spend the rest of his days in a research facility/retirement home dedicated to studying memory loss. Option 2? Frank allows a live-in robot to take care of him.

Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) is forced on Frank, and Frank is reluctant to accept Robot into his life at first, but things change, when Frank realizes he can train Robot to do anything. Meanwhile, Frank tries to woo Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), a local librarian, under the watchful eye of her boss, Jake (Jeremy Strong). Frank’s growing bond with Robot is disrupted by his visiting daughter Madison (Liv Tyler). Madison is dedicated to a life of philanthropy, and she doesn’t like the idea of her father relying on a robot.

With Robot’s help, Frank plans one more big heist, targeting Jake‘s wife, Ava (Bonnie Bentley) as the unsuspecting victim. Frank maps out a strategy to steal Ava’s lucrative and luxurious jewelery collection, but Frank runs into some problems after a suspicious Jake notices a rare book missing from the library. Jake and Sheriff Rowlings (Jeremy Sisto) launch a stakeout mission to catch Frank, and with his back against the wall, Frank is forced to make a tough decision that will change his life forever.

Brilliant. It’s the first word that comes to mind for describing Frank Langella’s performance. Langella is this cranky old codger at first, but as the story develops, you’ll see a vulnerable old man, who’s frightened at the thought of living a broken and lonely life. Plus, Langella is able flex his muscles with some smooth charisma during a handful of scenes with Sarandon, and Langella oozes confidence, while reliving his glory days as a cat burglar. It’s a remarkable performance, because the Frank character is loaded with so many layers, and Langella nails each one.

I give the nod to Liv Tyler for the second best performance in this cast. Madison is this obsessive hippie, and at times, you get the sense she’s a self-righteous phony. Madison hates robots, and she’s for all things natural, but there’s a scene where Madison uses Robot (unbeknownst to Frank) to clean up the house. Madison tries to take credit for Robot’s work, but Frank is able to catch her in a lie. Although, through all her protests and preachy lectures, you’ll be able to see Madison has a good heart, and the best intentions for her aging father. Jeremy Strong is believable as this pretentious and snobbish jerk, who’s determined to make Frank’s life a living hell (more on that later), and Jeremy Sisto has a handful of funny moments, as this dimwitted sheriff, who’s more interested in praising Frank’s glorious past as a skilled thief. No major complaints from Sarandon and Marsden, because they both delivered solid performances.

The “machine bonding with a human” is a storyline we’ve all seen before. In the case of Robot & Frank, it’s about a bitter old man, who’s losing his grip on reality, and Robot is his only friend left in the world. Towards the end of the movie, Frank almost drives the nail into the coffin for his relationship with Hunter by using him as a scapegoat to fool the police. Jake and Sheriff Rowlings are one step away from throwing Frank in jail, but Frank plants a case full of junk on Hunter for a diversion, so Frank can escape with Robot. Madison? As I said before, Madison isn’t perfect, but she’s trying to help. Frank constantly scolds Madison for her caring efforts, and there’s a scene, where Frank angrily tears open a bag of cereal in front of Madison.

But the grizzled lion has a few gentle and soft moments here. During the finale, Robot urges Frank to erase his memory. Frank refuses to disclose the location of Ava’s jewels, so Robot’s memory contains the only form of evidence against Frank. Frank is reluctant to erase Robot’s memory, because Robot is Frank’ s only friend in the world, who’s capable of recalling some happy moments. He struggles with this decision, but Frank realizes erasing Robot’s memory is the only surefire exit strategy for escaping a lonely death in prison. Frank unwillingly erases Robot’s memory, and as Robot enters his shutdown sequence, Robot collapses into Frank’s arms for an unintentional  hug.

And there’s a nice surprise during the final moments, when Frank visits Jennifer at the library. Frank scans the wall of pictures in Jennifer’s office to find of picture of Jennifer and himself together. Here, Frank discovers the truth: Jennifer is his ex-wife. Frank and Jennifer divorced each other thirty years ago, but Frank’s memory loss prevented him from connecting the dots. It’s a genuine shock, because you could tell there was something about Jennifer that lured Frank into the library over and over again, but it’s almost impossible to guess the truth until the big reveal. Good stuff.

Also, I’m happy they didn’t go with a sappy and clich├ęd happy ending. After Frank erases Robot’s memory, Frank FINALLY agrees to move into the memory loss center/retirement home for the elderly. The last minutes of the movie show Frank, Jennifer, Hunter, and Madison together on a picnic, and they’re sharing family time together. Before everyone leaves, Frank hands Hunter a note revealing the hidden location of Ava’s jewels:  The jewels are buried in Frank’s garden in the backyard. Frank prepares to return to his room, when he spots two robots, who remind of Robot, but Frank’s not 100% sure they’re the same robot, because Frank erased Robot’s memory. It’s a bittersweet ending with the right amount of melancholy, because either way you choose to look at it, Robot & Frank didn’t reach too far to pull tears out of you, and Frank’s encounter isn’t too corny, not by a long shot.

It’s hard to ignore Frank Weld’s status as an anti-hero here. And you know what, it’s easy to root for him, when you consider his adversary. Jake is an unlikeable and preppy snob, who walks around with this undeserved superiority complex, and Jake turns into a bully with Sheriff Rowlings conveniently in front of him. He’s such a worm, so it’s hard to feel ANY sympathy for Jake, when Robot and Frank steal his wife’s jewels. In fact, I was hoping (with fingers crossed) Frank would find a way to steal everything from the safe, with a clean getaway, leaving Jake embarrassed and frustrated.

Robot & Frank provides a nice balance of quirky comedy, and a touching drama about an aging man, who’s afraid of living his last days alone. You’ll find yourself cheering for Frank during his last heist and the aftermath of a risky coverup, because Langella brings an irresistible amount of charm and tenderness (in certain scenes, mainly towards the end) to this character. Honestly, I didn’t have high expectations for this one, but Robot & Frank was a pleasant surprise for me.

Rating: 9/10

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