Monday, September 10, 2012

"Robot & Frank": An elegy to memory and missed family opportunities

     Robot & Frank, made by first-time filmmakers director Jake Schreier and writer Christopher D. Ford, is a low-key, simple yet layered study of a retired burglar living with the onset of dementia in the near future.  He’s played by Frank Langella in a performance that is quietly powerful and depends both upon an elegant arrogance that he projects effortlessly and his physical stature.  Frank’s children (James Marsden and Liv Tyler) are concerned about his mental health so son Hunter provides him with a robot.  

Robot Working in the Garden While Frank and Dexter Relax
     The robot believes in a set agenda for Frank’s day as a means to ensure his mental acuity, but Frank is more interested in resuming his career as a thief.  Primarily, this is because he is interested in romantically engaging Jennifer the
librarian (Susan Sarandon), who’s also facing the challenges of new technology in her position.  The relationship between Robot and Frank, however, is the crux of the story and though Frank realizes and regrets that he is losing his memory, the robot instructs Frank to delete his memory if things should get too hairy.  The theft of a copy of Don Quixote figures prominently in the plot and the allusions to that work reverberate throughout the movie.  Frank is Don Quixote, Robot is a 21st century high tech Sancho Panza and Jennifer is Dulcinea.  The theme of memory and delusion cannot be understated. 

The Town Library is Revamped for the Future
     The actors playing the family members actually look and have the mannerisms of people related to one another.  Langella has had a wonderful run of performances recently (President Nixon in Frost/Nixon, Starting Out in the Evening, and as Clare Quilty in Adrian Lyne’s orthodox adaptation and astonishing vision of the great American ‘50s road novel and forbidden love story Lolita – it’s worth checking out on DVD or on Netflix), but this has a wry sadness about it that is piercing.  During filming, a dancer had to move the robot from within, while Langella’s nephew fed lines to him.  Peter Sarsgaard’s voice was added later as in an animated movie.  It’s a tribute both to Langella and Schreier’s direction that this sounds so seamless.

1 comment:

Sadie Heldberg said...

I want a Robot! Frank Langella has been wonderful in everything I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him perform in. This whole movie looks good from the character development to the difficulty behind memory loss. I look forward to exploring the relationship Robert shares with Frank, especially how they pull off heists together; I can only imagine that there will be some sad parts, given Frank's condition. My business travel for Dish fills up my schedule, so I don't make it to theaters as often as I'd like, but I'll catch Robot and Frank using Dish Online; I always have my laptop whenever I'm away from home. Watching a good movie is a nice distraction when I'm missing home.