Robot & Frank (4 stars)

Robot & Frank

Gentle comedy about a retired burglar and his robotic friend

Jake Schreier's feature debut Robot & Frank successfully engages the head and the heart to emerge as one of the most charming independent films of the year. It's an enjoyable crime caper, an affecting meditation on old age as well as an amusing buddy movie that thrives on the originality of its premise.

Set in the near future, the film focuses on retired burglar Frank (Frank Langella), a gruff elderly man battling the onset of dementia, who is gifted a robot butler by his estranged son (James Marsden) as a means of looking after him. Initially put out by Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) and his strict efforts to keep him healthy and intellectually stimulated, Frank soon realises that his presence has merit and he subsequently enlists Robot as his partner in crime, forging an unlikely bond between man and machine that has unexpected emotional consequences.

Although predictable to a degree in the way that its central relationship develops, Schreier's film never feels overly manipulative and even has some surprises up its sleeve. Hence, its poignant conclusion creeps up on you and feels all the more authentic for having done so. The film's gentle humour, meanwhile, is nicely offset by moments of tension and compelling human drama, which enable it to pose some pertinent questions about science, old age, mortality and family without feeling too contrived.

Langella provides a formidable central presence, both stubborn and endearing, while Sarsgaard injects warmth and humanity into Robot (recalling Kevin Spacey's work in Duncan Jones' Moon). Together, they provide one of the more memorable double acts of recent years. There's notable support, too, from Marsden, Susan Sarandon and Liv Tyler. It’s a tribute to the film’s ability to engage on so many levels that it genuinely has something to offer audiences of all ages.

Robot & Frank screened at London Film Festival 2012. It will be in cinemas in 2013.

Robot and Frank trailer

Robot & Frank

  • 4 stars
  • 2012
  • US
  • 1h 29min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Jake Schreier
  • Written by: Christopher D. Ford
  • Cast: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Peter Sarsgaard, James Marsden, Liv Tyler
  • UK release: 8 March 2013

Frank (Langella) is an elderly ex-burglar fighting the onset of dementia whose son gives him a robot butler (voiced by Sarsgaard) to look after him – then Frank decides to enlist Robot for one more job. Charming, funny and affecting, with a memorable double act from Langella and Sarsgaard.