We keep expecting the future to look wildly different, but the truth is that it’s probably going to look an awful lot like the world right now.
That’s one of the subtle insights of “Robot & Frank,” a low-key drama-comedy about an aging thief who plans one last job with his robotic home health care aid. It’s more thoughtful than the plot description suggests is possible, with flashes of wry humor and a melancholic edge that suggests any number of insights about identity, letting go, and the very nature of existence. Conveniently, it also offers some solid advice for people who want to either break into their neighbor’s jewel safe or talk a robot into helping you commit crime.
Frank Langella is Frank, the aging thief who’s fighting a losing battle with dementia. The movie is careful not to be obvious about it, but a careful look at the opening sequence offers a heartbreaking look at how far he’s really gone. The actor suggests the character’s rich, complicated life history in bits and pieces, his face lighting up at the description of a particular job and sliding into disgust when he talks about getting picked up for tax evasion. He’s charming, ruthless, sweet and sad by turns, and always mesmerizing enough to hold the audience’s attention.
He’s at his funniest, however, as part of a comedy duo. Voiced by Peter Sarsgaard, Robot brings out the best in Frank while taking surprisingly few liberties with the basic robotic ideal. His responses are subtly funny and perfectly logical all at the same moment, and while the movie carefully skirts the issue of whether he has a personality it’s easy to see why Frank ends up bonding.
Of course, there are about six different ways to translate the relationship. Is Robot a replacement son? A younger version of Frank? Simply his desperate need to connect? None of these interpretive possibilities slowed the movie down in the slightest, but sorting through them felt like I was getting bonus material before the movie had even come out on DVD.
For more information check out the Sept.6 edition of Davis CLipper.