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Science Fiction Notebook: Robot and Frank


Robot and Frank, 2012 directed by Jake Schreier, written by Christopher D. Ford; starring Frank Langella, Liv Tyler, Susan Sarandon
(Amazon, iTunes)

Summary: Ailing ex-con Frank uses his new home-care robot to pull a heist.

Short Review: Excellent example of near-future science fiction. Superbly acted, directed, filmed and written. A soft-spoken, crisply crafted story.

Opening images: A dark home interior, with a break-in crime in progress, and the elderly criminal stares at a family photo. He has second thought, drops the photo and its glass breaks. We learn we are in the future when after he falls asleep at home, the criminal Frank (Frank Langella) receives a video call from his daughter (Liv Tyler) who appears on a new-fangled screen above his mantelpiece. The connection is lost. We catch many glimmers of a near-future when Frank heads to the library, which is staffed in part by a clerk (Susan Sarandon) and a robot. The library is due to be shuttered, then reimagined by a new non-profit agency. Frank seems somewhat disoriented by the world’s changes, and his memory is failing. His son, worried, provides Frank with a new robot butler (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) who is a health care aid programmed to help Frank. Frank doesn’t want help.

Middle images: A fundraising party at the old library. The event encourages Frank to pull an even bigger heist, against the rich young donors’ and their bling. Frank and the Robot begin to spy on their mark, seated hidden in the woods peeking through binoculars.

Conflict’s images: Variations of franks determined face. Frank evading the cops, and hugging the Robot as he deletes its memory. He ends up at the librarian’s office only to make a horrible discovery when he views the family photos in her office. Despite how skilled he is as a burglar, he suddenly must come to terms with just how bad his own memory actually is. He grows a great deal older and wiser.

Ending images: Nursing home of the future, family picnic, robot assistants for more of the other elderly, Frank waving goodbye to his family.

Plot structure:

– opening and daily old man routines.

– getting used to the robot and growing to like it. New, healthier routines.

– library, news, planning and implementing heist number one. A proof that he can do more and better.

– romance lost.

– planning and implementing heist number two.

– being suspected / getting caught, and evasions.

– romance regained, but leading to life-changing realizations

– denouement nursing home picnic, sense of happiness/satisfaction, bittersweet success.

Production notes: According to NY Times,  the film was shot for a minimal budget of 2.5 million dollars, and in 20 days of shooting. That’s amazing, and just goes to show once again that small-budget movies can present exceptional stories, acting, and film-making.

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