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Film / Robot and Frank

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"You win, I'll eat the steamed cauliflower. I win, you make me a damn cheeseburger."

An indie sci-fi film from 2012 directed by Jake Schreier and written by Christopher Ford, starring Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden and Liv Tyler. The film first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2012 and is the winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize.

Frank Weld is a retired thief and con man living a quiet life in small town in the near future, slowly succumbing to a combination of boredom, loneliness, and the onset of Alzheimer's. To address the situation, his son Hunter bestows upon him a robot living assistant to help take care of him. Despite his initial antagonism towards Robot, Frank eventually warms up to it as he realizes it can be easily manipulated to his will. Meanwhile, the town library is being reformatted, the old paper books are being replaced, and the old librarian fired in favor of a "Augmented Reality library experience". Frank decides to teach his new friend all the old tricks he knew about crime and together they perform a series of capers.

Tropes appearing in this movie:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Frank thinks so anyway, and initially believes that Robot will kill him in his sleep.
  • Artistic License – Law: At no point in his investigation of Frank does the sheriff display a warrant. Jake claims they have probable cause, but that is somewhat doubtful. Also, it seems unlikely that the police would allow a victim of a crime to accompany and assist with the investigation of a suspect. It's implied Frank and Jake know this, and Jake is pressuring Frank.
  • Asshole Victim: Jake. He is patronising to Frank, is turning the library into a multi-media Augmented Reality experience, and makes a living as "a consultant, whatever that is."
  • Beneath Suspicion: Frank at first, as the sheriff thinks he's much too old to pull off such a complicated job by himself.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Robot gets his memory erased and is supposedly disposed of, while Frank gets put into a home with his condition only getting worse. He is on much closer terms with his family however. He also buries the priceless jewelry in the garden for his son to have.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Jake, the sponsor.
  • The Caper: The middle part of the film is Frank planning the caper with Robot.
  • Chekhov's Gag: The Self-Destruct Mechanism. When some kids are poking at Robot early on, Frank tells him to say "Initiating self-destruct" and then count down from ten. When the police bust Frank's house and decide to download Robot's memory, it does exactly that and scares the cops into fleeing.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The little Hummel figurines Frank was shoplifting.
  • Concealing Canvas: Frank hides his valuables in a safe behind a painting.
  • Deadpan Snarker: After Frank's cognizance recovers somewhat thanks to Robot's presence, his sense of dry humor returns.
  • December–December Romance: Frank and Jennifer the librarian. Subverted in the end.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: When Robot has its memory erased, it looks like it's dying.
  • Do Androids Dream?: In the beginning, Robot tells Frank that, if it fails to care for Frank, it will be sent back to the factory to get its mind erased, which it hopes to avoid. It's later revealed that Robot doesn't care about its memories, it just said that to coerce Frank into cooperating. As Robot itself points out, it's not really alive, but just an advanced simulation.
  • Dull Surprise: Both his kids and Jennifer's reaction to Frank stealing is pretty jaded and nonchalant (Hunter is more outraged at being used to put the police off the trail). This comes from experience with his kids while for Jennifer it's because she's Frank's ex-wife.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The beginning scene shows the audience Frank's two major characteristics: we see him robbing a house at night, revealing his role as a catburgler. But then it's revealed through a framed picture that he's "robbing" his own house in a moment of dementia.
  • Everything Is Online: Frank downloads the plans of the house he wants to burgle from the architect's website.
  • Friendly Enemy: The sheriff is basically a fanboy of Frank's previous criminal exploits. He even asks Frank to come on as a consultant to catch the criminal burglarizing the neighborhood (who is, of course, Frank and the robot). He's also Genre Savvy enough to put Frank's house under surveillance immediately after talking to Frank and seeing that the Robot can move quickly and precisely.
  • Foreshadowing: Pretty much everything involving the reveal that Frank's ex-wife is the librarian. When first introducing Frank to his robot, Hunter says that his mother already has a robot. Frank offhandedly mentions a redhead he did a job for that he normally refused. And the book that Frank stole from the library? Don Quixote.
  • Gentleman Thief: Although Frank is not particularly classy or refined, he does show aspects of this archetype, such as his meticulous research before each job and his insistence that only "those insurance company crooks" will get hurt from his heists.
  • Granola Girl: Madison, Frank's daughter is an active campaigner against robot work and travels to third-world countries organizing microfinance projects.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Frank, at first.
  • Hate Sink: Jake pretty much exists to be a demeaning and obnoxious Jerkass who the audience will enjoy seeing get the runaround from Frank for the final half of the film.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: An unusual example, where Robot insists on having its memory wiped so it can't be used to incriminate Frank.
  • It's All About Me: When Hunter tells Frank "I don't want you dying alone out here to be one more thing that's my fault." He isn't worried about Frank dying alone, but about being blamed for it.
  • Just a Machine: Frank insists that Robot is his friend, but his kids act like it's just a machine, and Robot keeps reminding Frank that he's "not a real person". Frank gets angry when Madison treats the robot like a slave rather than a person.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Frank can be one towards his own kids.
  • Men Can't Keep House: When he's living by himself, Frank's home is fairly slovenly.
  • Mind-Reformat Death: Crossed with a Heroic Sacrifice; Frank pulls off one last heist with the help of Robot. As the police close in, planning to use the robot's memory as evidence against Frank, the robot insists that Frank delete his memory because his only goal is to be helpful, and he would fail if Frank were to go to jail. Frank does so reluctantly, having come to see the robot as a true friend.
  • Name and Name: Robot and Frank
  • Never Given a Name: Frank's robot is never named. Lampshaded when Jennifer expresses surprise that he didn't give it a name.
  • New Old Flame: Frank and Jennifer, though he didn't remember.
  • New Technology Is Evil: Frank's daughter, who is against using robots, and forcibly deactivates the robot when she comes to visit. She eventually gives in and turns Frank's robot back on to clean the kitchen (after he makes a truly incredible mess to force her to do just that).
  • Obfuscating Insanity: What Frank claims he has regarding his Alzheimer's disease.
  • Odd Couple: The titular Frank and Robot
  • One Last Job: Averted. Frank wants to use Robot for more than one job — burglary is much more stimulating than gardening. He meant to retire at 30, but was then imprisoned for tax evasion.
  • Robo Speak: Mr. Darcy, the librarian robot.
  • Robot Buddy/Robot Maid: Technically, Robot is Frank's caretaker and housekeeper.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Jennifer, for a while. Until it's revealed that she's actually Frank's long-divorced wife. He'd forgotten all about her.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: Parodied. Robot threatens its use twice to get people to run away, but it's a bluff each time.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sticky Fingers: Frank has a mildly compulsive need to shoplift small items, such as candles, without any need or reason.
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Sheriff Rowlings is pretty affable and lawful, his antagonism towards Frank coming more from being a savvy and fairly competent cop and having to take a case for Jake.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Discussed; Madison turns Robot off by whispering its password to it. She won't tell Frank the password, but he expects that it will be something simple like 1-2-3-4.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The film's trailer gives away all of the major aspects of the plot, though the film is more worthwhile for Frank Langella's performance than anything else.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The opening titles give the date as "The near future." Robot is far ahead of anything that we can make now, but otherwise things don't look too different from 2012.
  • Villain Protagonist: Arguably Frank is this, being a former criminal who uses his robot to reignite his criminal career. In the end he pretty much manages to get away with everything too.
  • Wham Line: "Is that you? Is that me?"
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Hunter to Frank when he finds out he's been stealing again.