15 March-28 March; DCA
Set in the not-too-distant future, the tale of ageing former cat burgler Frank Weld (Frank Langella) and his robot carer is both comic and at times poignant. Frank has a strained relationship with his son Hunter (James Marsden); clearly worn down from shouldering the burden of care for his proud father in the early stages of dementia, Hunter buys Frank a robot health carer to help the old man manage his everyday tasks and well-being. Frank’s initial contempt for the gift soon disappears when he realises he can utilise the robot’s excellent memory and code-cracking abilities to his criminal advantage.
Frank gains the robot’s compliance in his scheme for one last great heist by selling the activity as productive mental stimulation; he then forms a plan to break into the house of the exceedingly arrogant yuppie Jake, played brilliantly by Jeremy Strong, a character whom Frank grows to loath due to Jake and his team’s renovation of his beloved local library. In an age when libraries as we know them are being replaced by a more “digitalised experience”, Frank’s library is being converted into a sort of museum to the pre-digital age. Jake also seems to take great pleasure in patronising Frank, reminding the “old timer” that he’s one of the last links to our “printed history”. Indeed, throughout the film, Frank is constantly at odds with the modern world, and it seems that the one time famous cat burgler has resorted to petty shop lifting in order to gain a sort of control, and possibly his own form of normality, in a world he can no longer relate to.
For all the relationships in his life, such as his fraught bond with his son, his complete adoration for his globetrotting daughter (Liv Tyler) and his flirtations with local librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), the real romance and comic exchanges in the film are found in Frank’s endearing conversations with his robot companion.
The machine’s comic delivery is anything but robotic; even slight variations in the flat line tone, provided by Peter Staarsgard, make for some of the highlights of the film. Furthermore, Frank’s ever blossoming relationship with his robot side kick brings up some important questions for our increasingly technological age. Can an object with so much capacity for memory really become a true “friend” or is Frank, and the indeed the audience, just too willing to project a human personality onto this tin “man”? Also, is the robot really an “accomplice” to these crimes? Or is its involvement simply Frank taking advantage of a glitch in it’s programming?
Overall, Robot and Frank makes for enjoyable and engaging viewing; with Frank’s natural propensity for cunning, no doubt garnered through his extensive criminal career, keeping you guessing as to the severity of his condition to the last.