Sundance 2012: Jake Schreier's 'Robot & Frank' a Brilliant Robo-Heist
by Alex Billington
January 22, 2012
I'm a big sucker for anything science fiction, especially when it's very well-done indie sci-fi, and Sundance usually only programs a few of these kind of films every year. The one this year, that deserves a very worthy comparison to Duncan Jones' Moon (Sundance '09), is Jake Schreier's Robot & Frank, set in the "near future" about an aging thief played by Frank Langella who is given a humanoid helper robot. A completely original and unlike-anything-you've-seen before film, Robot & Frank is not only brilliant in its story and concept, but heartwarming and often times charming, while also occasionally thrilling and entertaining.
While you may think you know what to expect when it comes to an older guy getting a "helper robot" and the comedy that may ensue, similar to Moon, this is much more of drama with a lot more emotion than I was expecting. Langella plays Frank, an elderly father of two kids, played by James Marsden and Liv Tyler. It's apparent from the start that he has Alzheimer's, forgetting various things, people, and how much time has passed, but it's all part of the brilliance of his character, and what makes him such a unique subject to follow in this story. In his past, Frank was a thief, almost as if he's Rusty from the Ocean movies only old, retired and now living alone in the "near future". Once he gets the robot (called "Robot"), a new adventure begins.
I use the term "robo-heist" even though it's probably not that accurate, but I think it's a fitting and quirky description for this film. As explained in the Sundance guide, Robot & Frank is a "dramatic comedy, a buddy picture, and, for good measure, a heist film." You may think you know how the relationship between Frank the thief and the robot, voiced by Peter Sarsgaard, will play out, but it's not what you're expecting and yet still amusing and even endearing at times. Robot & Frank is much more intelligent and heartwarming than even I was expecting, and that's what makes it such an easy film to love, especially for its nuanced charm.
I really believe "brilliant" is one of the best words to describe this film, as it was as touching and captivating, as it was entertaining and intelligent. The robot itself and the technical nature of the film is impressive, and while certainly low budget, it never feels like it's lacking. This is not an uproarious comedy, but it's a smart, heartwarming drama with a comedic edge that makes it one of my top films of the fest. I want to see it again.
Alex's Sundance Rating: 9 out of 10