Robot & Frank

March 4, 2013 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

One of the benefits of doing this site is that I get sent a very wide variety of titles, some I’ve heard of and others I’ve not.  I’d say that Robot & Frank is something that I’d usually pass over, but something about it stuck out to me.  Was it the cast?  James Mardsen, Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon and Liv Tyler aren’t exactly the hottest out there, but there’s an Academy Award winner in there (as well as Langella being nominated a few years back for Frost/Nixon).  I looked at the box and the concept seemed interesting, there wasn’t that many supplemental materials and with a running time of only 89 minutes I figured “Oh why not.” This was also more of a risk as this title isn’t available on Blu-ray, nope this is standard DVD only.  It’s 2013 and I didn’t realize they still made films only to release them in an inferior format.  That and after a quick browse though my “On Demand” library, I see it’s available in HD for viewing in one form.  You know what?  I won’t let that bug me.  Let’s get started.

Frank (Frank Langella) has led a rather colorful life.  He’s done some time in prison for theft and his son (James Mardsen) is reluctantly looking after him.  His daughter (Liv Tyler) is more of a free spirit, but of course wants what’s best for her father.  Frank’s bordering on senility and his only real pleasure is going to the library where he chats with the librarian (Susan Sarandon).  It’s not until that Hunter (Mardsen) gets Frank a helper robot that his world starts to change.  The robot is programmed to look after Frank, evaluate his health, make good meals and get him on a program so that Frank can get his life in order.  Frank initially rejects the robot, but after seeing that the robot has a lack of, er, morals – he starts to warm up to his binary friend.  I neglected to mention that this film is set in “the very near future” though that aspect isn’t really explored all too much.  We know it’s far enough ahead that people can buy robots and have conversations with them.

Robot & Frank is one of those little gems that I’m glad I found and maybe it was meant to be. Langella turns in a great performance as the estranged father as he borders on grump and loving dad.  Susan Sarandon is a bit wasted as the flighty librarian and both Mardsen and Tyler do well in their respective roles.  The movie doesn’t have a preachy message, mainly it made me think what it’ll be like when I’m Frank’s age and how feasible this might actually be (I’d say very).  And I have to admit that having a helper robot be a literal partner-in-crime is something I don’t think I’ve seen in a movie before.  You might have to look a bit harder for this one be it On Demand or at your local store, but I assure you that it’s worth checking out.

Video: How does it look?

I’d mentioned above that this title is available via On Demand though the version viewed here was the standard DVD.  I have to say that it’s been a while since I watched a standard DVD and my how I’ve been spoiled by HDTV and Blu-ray’s in particular.  Having said that, the 2.40:1 anamorphic image does look fairly good.  The film takes place in Cold Spring, New York (also where the movie was filmed) and we get lots of lush greenery that adds to the scenery.  Detail looks pretty good, we can see the expression lines on Langella’s forehead, the nuances of his house and so forth.  Black levels and contrast make for a very pleasing transfer overall though I can see that when and if this is available on Blu-ray, a number of these things that bugged me will be fixed. The movie is new to DVD and as such, looks about how I expected.

Audio: How does it sound?

The included Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack does a fine job of doing what it’s supposed to do.  Dialogue is the main focus here and Langella’s raspy, deep voice take front and center stage.  The robot was voiced by Peter Sarsgaard and his smooth and calming voice is just about what I’d imagine a robot to sound like.  There are a few ambient surround effects that add to the atmosphere, but by and large this mix is fairly unimpressive.  I do have to admit, though, it’s nice to hear a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and see my receiver actually display the word “Dolby” as it’s been accustomed to saying “DTS HD Master Audio” for quite some time now.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Unfortunately we don’t get that many extras here, the only thing really worth mentioning is a feature-length commentary track by Director Jake Schreier and Writer Christopher Ford.  The duo are pretty chatty and mainly discuss some of the moral issues of the film as well as its feasibility.  Casting is also mentioned and they keep praising Langella (who, admittedly is a fine actor).  There are also a gallery of posters for the film.

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