Set in the near future, Jake Schreier's Robot & Frank is a quiet, low-budget sci-fi flick about the friendship between an ageing jewell thief and his Robotic assistant. At first glance this could look like your typically quaint, Sundance-friendly indie-comedy with a high concept and a hollow centre, but Schreier's feature debut is thematically rich, tender and, at times, profound. The film tells the story of an ageing ex-con called Frank, whose son gives him a robot to help around the house as his health begins to deteriorate. However, Frank isn't quite ready for retirement, and uses his new robotic friend to pull of one final heist.
Whilst Robot & Frank doesn't have anything like the gravitas or naked frankness of its Oscar-winning festival partner Amour, it manages to explore the difficult subjects of ageing and cognitive corrosion whilst maintaining its warmth and charm. Much of this is down to Frank Langella, whose exquisitely judged performance displays all the qualities of an actor who has truly mastered his trade. The balance between Frank's patriarchal assertiveness, wily intuitiveness, and his inevitable fragility are perfectly captured.
Schreier has assembled a great supporting cast, including Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler and James Marsden, but the show is frequently stolen by Jeremy Strong, as the obnoxious yuppie, Jake, who makes for a enjoyably detestable antagonist. Robot is voiced brilliantly by Peter Sarsgaard, who succeeds in finding a midpoint between the mechanical and the humane. Like many cybernetic voiceovers, Robot's speech owes a lot of 2001's Hal, but the performance is more notably similar to Kevin Spacey's GERTY in Duncan Jones' Moon. Part of the credit for Robot's affability must also go to screenwriter, Christopher D. Ford.
The script it tight and funny, deriving much humour from conventional sci-fi staples, and Robot's dialogue is personable enough for one to feasibly befriend him; he speaks with an automated efficiency, but words like 'affirmative' are substituted for a simple, yet whimsy 'Yes, Frank'.
Robot & Frank is spritely and well-paced, and although the themes are a little on-the-nose and the final twist seems a little strained, its loveable anti-hero and wealth of interesting ideas make it great company for 90 minutes.
A charming, funny and often moving contemplation on old age and memory with a terrific central performance; this is the kind of modest, intelligent story-telling that is often overlooked, but Robot & Frank is a surprisingly precious gem.
Robot & Frank is released in the UK 8th March