Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Robot and Frank (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Robot and Frank

Here is a film that is easy to make fun of concerning an aging jewel thief and a robot. What will independent Hollywood think up next?
Just wait.
"Robot and Frank" stars Frank Langella in the title role who gets a robot to keep an eye on him. The robot is a nurse or a maid of sorts. Frank is an old school Libertarian, a career criminal who laments technology, automation, the extinction of bound books and the passage of time. Frank is a curmudgeon to be sure, but he is easier for me to believe than anything dreamed up by Clint Eastwood. Frank's frustration is never overdone. He is a grouch with heart.
At first I did think of "The Odd Couple" mixed with Kubrick's "2001" but the solidity of Langella together with the spacey believability of the robot, voiced by Peter Sarsgaard, pushes away any overt silliness.
Granted it is corny to see the robot cloaked in a black cape during attempted robberies and the film does have its madcap moments, but just when you think the film enters the cornball world of Woody Allen's "Sleepers" or a Mel Brooks comical farce, Frank Langella, a spaced out man himself, has enough haunt and poignance to pull the film back to earth, on human feet where it belongs.
There are some wonderful touches here, notably the local library which is converted into a narcissistic Pier One bistro before your eyes, a scene that contains almost enough creepiness to rival Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Books are shelved in mahogany cabinets, but no one knows quite where such resources are located. In some scenes the library looks like a hospital or a walk in closet.
And the yuppie Villain with a capital V, Jake, (Jeremy Strong)  is so annoying that you want him to be victimized or at least vaporized immediately.
Susan Sarandon appears as a librarian along with Liv Tyler as Frank's daughter. We know almost instantly that Frank is a somewhat quixotic figure, lamenting automated ease and championing a personal cause for the intimacy of the human finger, the sensual play between the paper laid in an actual book and mortal touch.
But the real thrill of the story for me was the projection of human feelings onto the robot by Frank and the existential surface connections shared between them. Both Frank and the machine become isolated intimates that briefly touch for a few fleeting moments, an imaginary bond made stronger by Frank's will alone.
If this doesn't grab you, there is a final scene which rivals anything by Spielberg or Kubrick and echoes the painter George Tooker. 
This one last scene makes the entire film.

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