There are a few basic premises for films that are simply pure, and two of them are the road trip movie and the boy and his dog movie. You can find countless examples of each, and I am sure they have been mashed up before as well. That’s the case again in Finch, a road trip story starring Tom Hanks and an adorable dog, but that also happens to be set after the end of the world and co-starring your latest favourite movie robot of the year.
Finch wastes little time with its premise. It opens with the titular character (played by Tom Hanks) scrounging for food in a wasteland. He’s wearing a bulky, obviously homemade encounter suit that periodically reads his vitals and external conditions. Neither are great.
In this sequence, we meet the first of two robots in the film, Dewey, who behaves a lot like a loyal canine and who you will become attached to immediately. Once they return to Finch’s underground base –his former workplace as an engineer– we meet his dog, Goodyear, and the robot he is building. Before too long, a series of storms threaten to converge over the city, causing an extended amount of time that he won’t be able to scrounge, and so they set off in a 1980s RV to find greener pastures out west.
Of course, there are complications. While the robot is adorably naive, that’s not on purpose. Finch is forced to set out on the journey with only 70% of the robot’s programming done, which means that they’ll have to do a lot of learning on the trip.
The robot, who eventually clams the name Jeff, is wonderfully designed and wonderfully performed by Caleb Landry Jones. The role requires a real childlike sense of wonder and naivete that he embodies effortlessly. Despite Jeff not having a face, you can sense real emotion from him, which is precisely the kind of marriage of performance and special effects that many believe should have its own category at the big awards shows each year.
Hanks, being one of the great actors of our time, is in fine form as well. Finch is a loner, but he’s far from uncomplicated too, and as the film slowly reveals his backstory and motivation, you’ll likely find yourself tearing up at some of his monologues. It doesn’t hurt that his chemistry with Jones is excellent, and the parent-child relationship they develop is a fun one to watch. Over the course of the film, jeff progresses from toddler to teenager and watching their relationship grow and change is lovely.
The world they inhabit, one that lost its o-zone layer to a solar flare but then was destroyed by the people who were left over, is a compelling one as well. Imagine if climate change was accelerated –and it’s not exactly moving slowly as is– and you will have an idea in your mind: cities covered in sand, daytime heat that a human physically can’t stand, and technology just far enough ahead of our own to let us believe that a tired old man could build a robot out of salvaged parts.
Director Miguel Sapochnik (probably best known for directing some of your favourite episodes of Game of Thrones) has a natural eye for fantastic but grounded worlds, and this one is no different. There are nice little details all over this film that makes the world feel ruined but lived in.
If the film has a flaw, it might be that there are no other people in it. While it eventually builds to a hopeful ending, at no point do we see another person in the flesh despite clear evidence that they are there. In the end, it’s the relationship between Finch and Jeff and Goodyear that matters, though, so this is a pretty minor complaint.
One of the great pleasures of being a film lover is those times that you get to sit back and watch one of the great actors of our time remind us why we call them that. Hanks does that with almost every role he takes, but Finch is no different. T There’slot to love in Finch, but it’s Hanks that draws you in and makes you care. His chemistry with Jones, and his performance of a man more than a little broken by the events of the world ending, are excellent. Add a compelling performance from Jones and a post-apocalyptic world that is all too believable, and you have a film that you won’t want to miss.
Finch premieres on AppleTV+ this Friday, November 5th, 2021.
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