Robot & Frank (2012)

(On Cable TV, July 2013) At a time when most Hollywood Science Fiction blockbusters seem to be exercises in over-the-top action and densely dazzling visuals with little left for heart and compassion, it’s good to find an antidote in the form of a low-key SF comedy.  Here, five minutes in the future, an aging robber reluctantly forms a bond with his newly-imposed robotic assistant, to the extent of recruiting his new buddy for one last score.  Filmed with a surprisingly low budget, Robot & Frank even dispenses with extensive special effects work by using a simple robot suit worn by dancer Rachael Ma: it’s a film about relationships and subtle ideas, not really about spectacular visuals.  Frank Langella is essential to the film as the protagonist with a troubled past: he anchors the film in a believable reality and effectively acts as a foil to the entire cast as they all seem determined to do what’s best for him.  Meanwhile, Susan Sarandon is lovely as an aging librarian who becomes the object of his affection, and Liv Tyler makes the most out of limited screen-time as a daughter who learns better.  Much of the film is a slow burn, executed with calm and confidence.  It does builds up to an effective moral dilemma, though, and its exploration of memory (the tragedy of losing it, but also the curse of remembering everything) is as subtle as any film about aging could hope to feature.  While some late-film twists and revelations fail to convince, much of Robot & Frank remains charming in its own quiet way.  One of the best things about the mainstreaming of Science Fiction and the greater availability of filmmaking tools is that SF movies can now reflect a variety of viewpoints.  The blockbusters are here to stay, thankfully, but it’s good to know that there’s something else out there.

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