Tom Hanks has always been vocally against the idea of high-profile movies skipping theaters entirely in favor of debuting on streaming, but in a twist of cruel irony, the circumstances caused by the pandemic have seen his last four features do exactly that.
His World War II passion project Greyhound, which he also wrote and produced, debuted on AppleTV+ last summer after it was sold off by Sony. He also made a surprise cameo appearance in Prime Video’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, while Paul Greengrass Western News of the World was distributed internationally by Netflix, and earlier this year he wrapped shooting on Robert Zemeckis’ Disney Plus exclusive Pinocchio. Today brings the release of post-apocalyptic sci-fi Finch, another Apple original, which was originally intended to be released theatrically by Universal.
The project marks director Miguel Sapochnik’s second feature, and first in eleven years since futuristic action flop Repo Men, but the filmmaker has made his mark on television in the interim by helming episodes of many wildly popular shows, including some of the very best Game of Thrones has to offer. Finch doesn’t boast much in the way of visual style, flair or distinctive flourishes, but that doesn’t really matter when it’s a character-driven piece above all else.
The setup is remarkably simple given what we’ve come to expect from sci-fi stories revolving around the end of the world; Hanks plays Finch Weinberg, one of the last surviving members of the human race following a cataclysmic event that wreaked untold destruction. Wary that his time is running out, the inventor doesn’t want to leave his beloved dog alone in the event of his death, so he builds a sentient robot to keep his canine best friend company.
After some initial teething problems, which largely unfold through a series of humorous montages as his metallic protege gets to grips with walking and talking, the android names himself Jeff and looks to become part of the makeshift family unit as they head on a cross-country road trip, with the Golden Gate Bridge as their ultimate destination.
Movies that focus almost entirely on just a handful of characters are almost obligated to feature strong performances to keep the attention of the viewer, and that’s very much the case with Finch given that the only other three figures seen onscreen in the entire 115-minute running time other than Finch himself are two robots and a dog. Luckily, Hanks just happens to be one of the greatest actors of all-time, and it’s yet another phenomenal performance in a back catalogue brimming with them.
As the audience surrogate, protagonist, narrator and lead character all at once, it’s not an easy part to play, but Hanks is reliably sensational. Every gesture or movement, whether it be a raised eyebrow or sigh of exasperation, tells you much more about Finch’s mindset than any number of monologues ever could, and the leading man effortlessly carries the weight of the entire narrative on his shoulders.
That’s not to say everything else is window dressing, with Caleb Landry Jones’ vocal turn as Jeff a masterclass in how to bring depth, layers and emotional complexity to a character that doesn’t even have a face. There’s innocence, heart, humor, warmth and a constantly evolving sense of understanding that sees the dynamic between Jeff and Finch shift from master and his creation to almost father and son, even with some awkward moments in the second act where the robot takes some of his paternal supervisor’s advice a little too literally, which can almost be viewed as Jeff’s awkward teenage years.
Other than an opening scene that sets the stage to find Finch doing his best to escape a rampaging storm, a tense and jumpy supply run into an abandoned hospital and a nerve-shredding sequence that finds our heroes being followed by faceless marauders in another vehicle, there isn’t any action or anything you’d even call a set piece in Finch, despite the broad genre trappings of the premise.
Instead, the script from Craig Luck and Ivor Powell throws all sorts of ingredients into the mix, with the end result being a charming, elegiac mix of father-and-son tale, man and his dog adventure and buddy road trip comedy seamlessly dovetailing together to create an end product that isn’t particularly exciting or original in the standard sense, but never anything less than eminently watchable.
Despite the prime November release date and financial backing of the monolithic Apple, it’s hard to envision Finch as either a mass-market crowd-pleaser or awards season contender, giving it an unusual place in the late-year catalog. Hanks might (and probably should) find some recognition in the various Lead Actor categories, but as a whole it still feels as though it’s missing something, that one special ingredient that would take it above being hugely enjoyable and into unmissable territory.
As it stands, though, Finch is a very good film, one that’s ideal to fire up when you’ve got a couple of hours to spare and fancy losing yourself in a plot that’s hardly detailed or complex, but always charming and guaranteed to put a smile on your face or bring a tear to your eye. Not everything has to have the potential to earn billions of dollars at the box office or go home with an armful of trophies come the end of awards season, and if you’re looking for something that fits perfectly in the middle of that spectrum, then you won’t find much better this year than Finch.
Finch isn't the most original or exciting sci-fi movie you'll ever see, but it's a charming road trip adventure anchored by yet another incredible performance from Tom Hanks.