Robot & Frank shows us that a small film can be great, as can a small robot. Director Jake Schreier's feature debut is anything but small when it comes to acting, story, and directing.
The film, which takes place in the near future, is a tour de force for Frank Langella, winner of too many Tonys, Oscars, Golden Globes, and other awards to list. Langella, who plays a retired cat burglar, is on screen 90 percent of the time. He is admirably assisted by James Marsden (Enchanted, Superman Returns), Liv Tyler (Lord of the Rings, One Night at McCool’s) and Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon.
Langella’s character, also conveniently named Frank, is suffering memory loss and his two kids, played by Marsden and Tyler, want to put him in a nursing home. He resists, so his son buys him a humanoid robot, voiced by Peter Sarsgaard (Orphan, Rendition, Kinsey), programmed to improve him physically and mentally. The robot’s efforts bear fruit, but not in a way anyone had anticipated.
Langella deals with Frank’s memory and old-age problems convincingly. As I watched, I recalled the struggles my own mother had as her brain began to fail her, and, as I am now 60-plus, some of Frank’s challenges hit too close to home. Langella, 71 years old himself, has however lost none of his power as an actor.
I remember seeing him as Mack the Knife in an avant garde production of The Threepenny Opera, in Santa Monica, back in the 1970s. It was a small stage, and for some scenes, the entire audience was moved to a different room and sat in and around the scenery as if they were a part of the production. Langella’s performance was masterful and menacing, and Robot & Frank shows that he has not lost that capability.