"Call it the defeatist version of The Martian"
Call it the defeatist version of The Martian. Or think Cast Away directed by Danny Boyle. Finch is a post-apocalyptic road movie with a man and his dog. And a robot. He is stranded in a wasteland where UV radiation can kill him and all he wants to do is to stay ahead of the next storm. Unlike both The Martian and Cast Away, there is no home to make as a quest; there is no safety, only safer. San Francisco is arbitrarily picked as a destination and the remainder of this 115 minute Apple TV+ movie is nearly as random. The plot moves forward in RV style. And Tom Hanks, who has always been a leader and a teacher, tries to transform the robot from a walking Siri into a caregiver and wants to show the importance of this. The priorities of the movie appear to be spotlighting the impressive robot f/x.
Miguel Sapochnik’s resume is filled with helming episodes of high-quality shows. Finch is his theatrical debut and in a successful move, makes a full-on Tom Hanks movie.
The world of Finch is scary believable. Between sun flares and climate change, the Earth of the near future is not a fun place. The real-feel average is a balmy 140 and the sand and dust makes St Louis look like the Rabe Crater on Mars. Sapochnik, along with cinematography from Jo Willems, creates a stunning world filled with beauty and destruction. Even more impressive are the technical achievements brought to the show in both Jeff the robot, and the dangerous storms that are ever-present in the atmosphere.
A sun flare has wiped out the ozone layer and any remaining life on Earth must deal with devastating radiation. Finch Weinberg is an engineer, a computer whiz, and, most importantly, a survivor. Along with him is his faithful - and adorable - pooch, Goodyear, and a new robotic caretaker, Jeff. Jeff has been uploaded with four prime directives. The fourth being that it must care for the dog. Finch, you see, is dying of radiation poisoning and his only desire is for the well-being of the dog. Remember, this is a Tom Hanks movie.
With the threat of a catastrophic storm bearing down on the home of the Blues, Finch packs an RV and heads to San Francisco. As with all road trip movies, the drive is filled with conflict - both with dangerous outside forces and with each other. Finch gets frustrated with his creation along the way but such comes from the acceptance of his own mortality while staring at a seemingly immortal metal and plastic being before him.
The story merely coasts along. Most of the danger is offscreen or never fully visualized, making Finch a mere conveyance of stories as Finch, playing his own Dr Frankenstein, attempts to bring life to his monster beyond automatic impulses.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
This is Tom Hanks through and through. Hanks remains at the top of his game as a storyteller and that is not going to end anytime soon.
The robot is brought to life through motion capture and vocal talents of Caleb Landry Jones. Throughout the movie, Jeff evolves. His Wikipedia fact reading is replaced with conversation. Stiff shuffles become fluid running. Even though Jones is never seen in the movie, he becomes the perfect partner to a stellar Hanks.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Jeff the robot has the inquisitiveness of WALL-E, the backbone of General Grievous, and the charm of ET. Through a combination of motion capture, puppetry, and animatronics, Jeff looks incredible. If anyone else other than Hanks played the titular role, Jeff would have owned the movie.
The setting is completely immersive as well. The decay of the city streets; the destruction and graffiti in Denver; even the ominous storms are all handled with the utmost of detail and attention.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Argentine musician Gustavo Santaolalla composes the score that fits the mood without any spectacular flourish. He adds in melancholy and somber guitar work during times of contemplation. Strings and an upbeat swing compliment the road trip vibe. But when talking about the soundtrack, one must mention the songs. There is Perry Como’s benign “Papa Loves Mambo” and the great Talking Heads anthem “Road to Nowhere.”
Unfortunately, Finch is bookended with the worst earworm ever to hit the airwaves: Don McLean’s “American Pie.” I, for one, would never want to live through an apocalypse where “American Pie” has also survived. Let’s all pray for a better future, shall we?
Finch is another vehicle for unadulterated Tom Hanks entertainment. The trite and, regrettably, harmless plot will make this one easy to forget until it starts making the rounds on other streamers. Jeff, however, is a fun and memorable character. Where Finch Weinberg will become lost among Hanks’ scrolling IMDb credits, Jeff has the potential to live on in numerous “Favorite Robots” lists. Probably somewhere well above Johnny-5 yet still short of C-3PO.