Hopefully, Frank Langella’s performance as a retired cat burglar in Robot & Frank won’t be forgotten come awards season. It’s not apparent until the end of the film how much he deserves it, but Christopher D. Ford’s seamless screenplay provides a light-comedy vehicle that Langella rides to a satisfyingly original, epiphanic finale. It’s a buddy movie with a fresh twist, set in the near future when videophones are common and libraries are nearly obsolete. People cover up their true selves with façades, and robots are programmed to be coercive when appropriate.
Frank lives alone in a Long Island hamlet where his son Hunter (James Marsden) visits him once a week to check on his condition. The old home’s disheveled state and his father’s faltering memory convinces Hunter to bring Frank a computerized servant, voiced by Peter Saarsgard. The robot’s main priority is Frank’s state, and it is capable of expressing indignation about its responsibilities. “I’m not a butler, Frank. I’m a health-care aide,” it says in its monotone cadence. The indignation is symptomatic of the robot’s dedication, though. Before long, Frank accepts the robot as his pal, and brings it up to speed on his history as a high-rolling thief.
Frank comes up with a reason to resume his criminal career, originating with the “re-imagining” of the town library by a new consultant (Jeremy Strong) and the dehumanizing affect it has on the librarian (Susan Sarandon) with whom he flirts. At least, that’s how Frank sees it. The robot can only create new memories, which allows Frank to follow a possibly delusional path that gets disrupted by the arrival of his anti-tech daughter (Liv Tyler). By that time, director Jake Schreier has created enough pathos to enable a sense of hope that Frank really could start fresh with his new partner in crime — or at least not get caught. MATT KELEMEN