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Robot & Frank DVD Review

Robot & Frank (2012) movie poster Robot & Frank

Theatrical Release: August 17, 2012 / Running Time: 89 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Jake Schreier / Writer: Christopher Ford

Cast: Frank Langella (Frank Weld), James Marsden (Hunter Weld), Liv Tyler (Madison Weld), Peter Sarsgaard (voice of Robot), Susan Sarandon (Jennifer), Jeremy Strong (Jake Finn), Jeremy Sisto (Sheriff Rowlings), Rachael Ma (Robot performer), Bonnie Bentley (Ava Finn), Ana Gasteyer (Shop Lady)

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Science fiction has traditionally been the domain of robots, but Robot & Frank just barely merits such classification. Set in Cold Spring, New York in the near future, this independent dramedy centers on Frank Weld (Frank Langella), an old retired jewel thief losing his mind. Frank's grown-up children -- Princeton-educated family man Hunter (Jason Marsden) and worldly philanthropist Madison (Liv Tyler) -- are concerned for his well-being, as he shows them ample evidence of disorientation and memory deficiencies in their interactions.
But the divorced Frank appreciates his independence, disputes any real concern, and resents even the thought of being placed in a "Memory Center" treatment center.

Hunter presents his old man with a compromise: a state-of-the-art robot. The unnamed predominantly white mechanical being (voiced unrecognizably by Peter Sarsgaard) is "like a butler." As an around-the-clock health care aide, the robot is more than that. He is an alarm clock, a chef, a groomer, and a nutritionist. Everything the robot does is to serve his primary function of looking out for Frank. The old man resists the company, vetoing his artificial caretaker's suggestions for mental stimulation. Frank isn't up for gardening or hikes. What he is up for is rekindling a flame buried deep within: thievery, a pastime that once landed him in jail on tax evasion charges and a thrill he feeds these days by shoplifting soaps. That petty crime and spending time with his favorite librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), are the only things that appear to hold Frank's interest anymore.

But, realizing the advantages of his new companion, Frank teaches the robot how to pick locks and prepares a return to serious theft. He has a perfect target, too, in the library's condescending consultant Jake Finn (Jeremy Strong), who expresses awe at Frank's attachment to old-fashioned print. First, Frank and the robot set their sights on the library's valuable, old hardbound copy of Don Quixote, which he intends to give to Jennifer. Then, after a social function for donors puts the lavish jewels of "rich yuppies" on display, Frank and his reluctant partner in crime begin studying the habits of the affluent Jake and his wife in anticipation of a big heist.

Initially, Frank (Frank Langella) isn't crazy about sharing his home with a robot.

You don't encounter movies like Robot & Frank very often and when you do, you wonder why that is. At least, I do. Why are so few movies willing to invest in humanity and present ordinary circumstances in a believable, relatable way? I guess filmmaking is a demanding enough process that the few holding the power to create feel pressure to make an impact on the viewer and to conform to certain conventions. When a movie's existence hedges on a pitch, you need a flashy, striking, concise concept. Then, your work has to endure notes, studio interference, and test screenings, all with the purpose of making something that will satisfy audiences and potentially make some money.

That last part doesn't apply that much to certain elite directors whose clout is contractually unquestionable. It also doesn't apply as much to independent films, for whom commercial success is relative and relatively unusual. Still, so many independent movies opt for darkness, quirkiness, and edginess. It's refreshing to see a movie like Robot & Frank buck those standards. Sure, a movie centering on an old man and a robot is bound to be viewed as offbeat and that is a label earned here, with a title, cast, and cover that seem like they could easily be a Funny or Die parody trailer or a 1980s children's sitcom premise. But, while wielding a succinctly conveyed premise, this film, is peppy, life-affirming, fun, and full of appeal.

Langella, who turned 75 on New Year's Day, is one of those actors you could long take for granted. He's been more of a presence on stage than in film for much of his nearly fifty years in acting. He's experienced something of a boom in recent years, most significantly from his Oscar-nominated portrayal of President Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon, a project he followed from the stage. He more than holds his own here, sharing the screen most frequently with a woman in a convincing robot costume, a situation that must have seemed ridiculous on a regular basis. I suspect that any actor with enough age and gravitas would have been fine in the role, but Langella somehow seems more fitting and grounded than other possibilities.

Frank's worldly philanthropist daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) checks in from abroad, sharing his dislike for robots. Frank's son Hunter (James Marsden), who bought him the robot, is briefly implicated in a pricey local robbery.

Langella and his cast mates have nice chemistry, while, making their respective theatrical film debuts, screenwriter Christopher Ford and director Jake Schreier have good instincts on everything from character development to sharp exchanges to compelling design. There are almost no flashy touches to hammer home the near-future setting. One narrow, fast car conveys the period for us, as otherwise Frank conducts choppy video chats through what looks like a flatscreen television. The robot resembles those in genuine use in Japan.
The upstate New York small town and its library have a distinct, down-to-earth flavor. With a budget of just $2.5 million, visual effects must have been limited, but one senses that Ford, Schreier, and their veteran cast had no interest in such gimmickry. Their interest here lies in gripping stories and characters, like the ones found in the old books being recycled at the library.

One obvious answer to my question about why movies like this are so rare: they don't really make money. For playing in just 209 theaters in the late summer, Robot & Frank grossed a decent $3.3 million. That probably isn't yet profitable, but then few movies distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films these days seem to be. The once competitive studio, founded by the son of its namesake Golden Age producer, mainly exists on the fringe of the industry today, the Kirk Cameron megachurch marital drama Fireproof being their only film to really register on the public's radars this millennium.

One of their bigger films and one of the most acclaimed of all 2012 release, Robot & Frank nonetheless isn't big or acclaimed enough to elicit a Blu-ray release just yet. Video partner Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings it exclusively to DVD on Tuesday.

Robot & Frank DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Portuguese, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: February 12, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $30.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase


Even for a standard definition presentation, Robot & Frank isn't quite up to Sony's usually very high standards. The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer lacks sharpness throughout, looking a tad soft, dark, and splotchy. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is lacking as well, namely in the quality of its recordings, though the distinctive, fitting score by Francis and the Lights is nicely presented.

A robot as caddy indicates the future is now in one of the Robot Poster Campaign Gallery's 23 images. Robot and Frank take a woodsy walk together on the Robot & Frank DVD's main menu.


The main bonus feature here is an audio commentary by writer Christopher Ford and director Jack Schreier.

Their first-timer status ensures a fresh and upbeat discussion that relays all the information it should with a good amount of passion. Topics include the movie's origins (as an NYU student short film), the influence of real Japanese robots, the use of profanity (which gets bleeped here), things figured out in the editing phase, cinematic influences, and their memories of the learning process that was production. It's a worthwhile listen.

Beyond that, we get a photo gallery of 23 posters cleverly advertising the technology of the future with feel-good pictures of robots and the elderly.

The DVD opens with a promo for Blu-ray (a format on which, may I remind you, this isn't available) and trailers for The Intouchables, Seven Psychopaths, Looper, Company of Heroes, and The Words. The menu's "Previews" listing repeats all the same ads in the same order. Robot & Frank's own trailer is conspicuously and unfortunately missing.

The menu plays a standard montage of clips under a robot-like bar of listings while an excerpt of the winning score plays.

Robot & Frank doesn't even qualify for Sony's standard UltraViolet and Sony Rewards touches. As such, no inserts are found inside the black keepcase.

Frank (Frank Langella) asks Robot to stay outside as he makes his regular visit to the local library in "Robot & Frank."


Despite mostly slipping under the public's radar, Robot & Frank is a highly appealing film that ranks among 2012's most satisfying. I recommend that you see it, although I do wish that recommendation didn't have to be limited to a lightweight DVD with underwhelming picture and sound.

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Reviewed February 1, 2013.

Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2012 Samuel Goldwyn Films, Stage 6 Films, Park Pictures, White Hat Entertainment, Dog Run Pictures,
and 2013 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.