“Robot & Frank” was a meditative, powerful and touching film. It reminded me of “Big Hero 6” and “Up” (Two of my favorite animated films) in it’s themes and there were character arcs that took place. Not to mention it had a pretty amazing soundtrack. I’ll get into the details of what I mean on all of this in the assessment, but to suffice to say I was very impressed with this film.
The film was directed by Jake Shreier, written by Christopher D. Ford and produced by Lance Acord, Sam Bisbee, Jackie Kelman-Bisbee and Galt Niederhoffer.
The premise is Frank (Frank Langella) is an ex-convicted thief suffering from dementia who is isolated from his family trying to live. His life is shaken up when his son Hunter (James Marsden) buys him a robot who is designed to care for his well being. From here things unfold as the robot is able to steal which leads Frank to exploiting that fact as he finds his memory returning. This leads to trouble though as his family is still worried for him and the consequences of his actions past and present come forward. From here the story unfolds.
Here is the assessment of the film:
The Pros: The soundtrack – Francis and the Lights are amazing! There is a “Postal Service” feel to them and it adds a sense of wonder and intensity to the soundtrack as well as contributing to the reflective feel of the film. I definitely plan on checking more of their things out.
Madison – Liv Tyler plays Frank’s daughter in a minor role and she does a great job. She is away for most of it and only comes back when she feels things have gotten so bad with Frank and wants to be a part of her life. You get why she is the way she is given Frank wasn’t a good father. He was in prison for a lot of it and was the tough distant guy and still was for most of his time too. His was denial so her story was the quest for connection. We see her traveling all over the world when she’s talking to Frank and she’s part of a movement that objects to the use of robots (seeing them as slaves). Frank and his time with her and attachment to the robot proves her wrong though as she realizes how much it was helping him. He eventually pushes her away too but she returns after he finally gets help for his dementia.
Hunter – Hunter is the concerned son who went to Princeton and does everything not to be his father. He is a devoted dad who does things for his kids and does things for his father too. He’s the caregiver where Madison was more focused on herself. He finally speaks up at the end and calls out Frank for using him which is part of what forces Frank to make the choice in the end to get help. He is the most active person in the narrative besides Robot. James Marsden does fantastic!
Robot – Robot is like Baymax, he doesn’t have a soul or any sense of self. It has a function that it fulfills and seeks to fulfill it’s programming. The programming, like Baymax in “Big Hero 6” is to help Frank heal. It does this by helping him in heists initially which has consequences later as his memory gets erased in order to protect Frank from being found out by the cops. It’s a powerful scene as to Frank, Robot is a person while Robot does not see itself as one. This sadness is touching too as you see Frank looking at robots in the “Brain Center” with sadness because he knows his robot and the adventures with it are gone and he’ll never have another one again because of his questionable use of it.
Frank – Frank Langella is great as Frank the grizzled, apathetic ex-con who has a good heart. We see that when he does get back into robbing it’s to impress Jennifer the librarian and to screw over the people who were digitizing all the books. We also see him open up to her after Robot helps him be comfortable and heal, making his mind sharp. Sadly in his mind getting sharper he just pushes his kids away more and his actions as a thief risk losing any possibility of a relationship with Jennifer he discovers…and they do have the final consequence in the end where he has to wipe the memory of his friend Robot so he doesn’t go back to prison. This is sad as he loses his friend who had helped him heal…though it helps him gain his family again (Jennifer was his wife) even as he continues to lose his mind.
Jennifer – Susan Sarandon plays the librarian who we learn is Frank’s ex-wife. She is a great character as we learned she stayed with him until he’d completely forgotten her. He is able to remember her though after his adventures with robot. We see her mostly as trying to deal with the changing system of everything becoming digital and her assistant being a robot named Mr. Darcy. We don’t learn as much about her as I would have liked but she’s real to the fakeness around her…and the twist about her being Frank’s ex-wife and her still loving him is powerful.
Identity and Artificial Intelligence – Robot puts it pretty well when he expresses Frank is aware he exists and his thoughts but Robot only knows his programming and is aware that he was created and isn’t attached to it…in this identity is tied to the ego and investment in the self and caring about things. Robot only cares about what he’s programmed to care about and for this reason it is much harder for Frank to wipe his memory even though Robot wants him too so he will not suffer since he was designed so Frank would not suffer and be ill. Baymax in “Big Hero 6” is very similar as he also only follows his programming and does not have a self or identity beyond what he’s programmed to do in service to others. This view of robots I think is probably more realistic though maybe at some point humans will invent consciousness in Artificial Life, of course there are some sci. fi. films that deal with this, but that will be for another Sci. Fi. week.
Okay: The Police – The detective tries to be interesting but he isn’t as he in the end is just playing Frank to try and make him reveal where the things are. This was a shame as I wish we saw more of Frank’s relationship to them (be it disgust, or anything else) given his history with them.
The Cons: Jake – He is the hipster techie advancing the library to the digital age. The guy is an ass to everyone he meets, even his wife and there is nothing redeemable about this character. I disliked that given he could have been used as a foil and contrast to Frank, but instead we just a get a blanket buffoon who is mean to everyone.
This was an amazing film and definitely one of my favorites! How it handles Artificial Intelligence and the near future is believable and it has compelling characters (all of the main cast) as well as having a fantastic character arc for Frank and giving Robot a great approach to everything. We humanize Robot just like Frank does which gives consequences to everything Frank does…we understand why Frank stops and is sad about wiping Robot’s memory because we’ve come to care about Robot too. Robot doesn’t care though, which in a way makes it all the sadder..especially since it mirrors Frank’s loss of memory and him losing the life the people he loves has lead and only remembers their pasts. I highly recommend this film.
Final Score: 9.7 / 10. A little slow and the villain is uninteresting but still an extremely solid and amazing film. One of the best that explores the concept of Artificial Intelligence.