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‘Must see’ movie : Robot and Frank

Robot and Frank is set in the near future. Phones are slicker. Libraries are closing because books are obsolete. But people still eat corn flakes and drive ordinary cars and there’s still no cure for Alzheimer’s

Frank (Frank Langella) is a reluctantly retired, but not quite reformed, former jewel thief in his 70s who is suffering from two major ailments, and it’s difficult to say which is the bigger one: He is in the early stages of dementia, and he is bored stiff - and being bored stiff is certainly not helping the dementia. About the only excitement he has is stealing soap from the local beauty shop. If at first these petty thefts seem like a sure sign that Frank is cracking up, later you realize that no, this is Frank being Frank. This is who he is

Frank lives alone since a yuppie son (James Marsden) and hippie daughter (Liv Tyler) are preoccupied with either owning the world or saving it. Frank’s wife gave up and moved away years ago. He spends his days walking to town, visiting what he recalls as a bar but is now a knickknack shop, and dropping by to flirt shyly with the local librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon).

The robot enters the picture when Frank’s son brings it along as a kind of health aid for Dad. “If you don’t mind my saying so, Frank, I think I could be a big help to you,” it remarks. Frank resists, but it’s the robot or the retirement home. After a contentious period of adjustment, the calm-voiced, infinitely patient little helper has Frank eating healthier, more focused, better connected to life. Then Frank realizes the robot has what he does not — a memory that can come in handy when Frank’s thieving instincts arise

Frank’s first foray back into criminality is a rare-book heist intended to impress Jennifer. It’s at this point in the film - really, the first minutes - that you might think that Robot & Frank will turn into the sentimental story of a man, a robot and a saccharine late-life romance. Forget it. Screenwriter Christopher Ford and first-time feature director Jake Schreier are far too shrewd and plugged in to take shortcuts into cliche

Frank decides to rob the house of a patronizing technology consultant who’s transforming the library into a sterile virtual-reality museum. It’s an act of poetic revenge on a man who’s wiping the community’s memory banks, but it boomerangs on Frank and his faithful robot in a way that hits painfully close to home

Robot and Frank is an absurdist comedy that’s also a moving drama about the human experience and a touching portrait of old age. It’s seriously emotional, occasionally deeply sad and even pessimistic, but very funny. The film owes a large measure of its success to Langella’s perfectly modulated performance. His performance captures the plight of an intelligent man who’s beginning to lose his grip. Much of the film is a one-man show, as he interacts with the visor-faced android

You’ll marvel at the emotional depth this talented actor brings forth. Burglars by and large are not personable or charming, and Frank is no exception. He is serious and gruff, almost a bit of a heavy. He’s distant from his children. He’s perversely admirable for his daring, his skill at larceny and his lawless code. He only steals diamonds and “nobody gets hurt except the insurance company.” And the more Frank denies his growing vulnerability, the more protective we feel toward him. It’s a beautiful performance in a movie that happily seems at no point trying to be beautiful

There are so many ways that a movie about a robot and an old man might have gone wrong. There are even more ways that a movie about a robot and an old man losing his memory might have gone wrong. All those ways - so easy to imagine (cute, whimsical, tear-and-a-smile, quirky) - have nothing to do with Robot and Frank, which turns out to be a hard, funny and realistic movie about the future

The underlying theme of this marvellous movie is the pain of losing connections — to family, to the past, even to cherished objects — but it never loses its connection to the audience

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