Leave it to Tom Hanks to make a family-friendly film about the apocalypse. America’s Dad has taken audiences to some challenging places before, but his latest film, set on an Earth that has been decimated by a solar flare, makes Cast Away look like child’s play. Finch, directed by Miguel Sapochnik and written by Craig Luck and Ivor Powell, takes place in the (not too distant?) future, where a solar flare has made all organic life on Earth impossible, due to the destruction of the ozone layer. Without the ozone layer, all life bakes in the 150+ degree heat, and any exposure to direct sunlight literally melts the skin. Hanks plays Finch, a scientist who happened to be in his subterranean office when the flare hit, so he survived, and has figured out a way of existing since. He goes out during the day, in a protective suit, to scavenge for any remaining food he can find, and, at night, he toils away in his lab, building a robot, which will not only serve as a companion to him, but will act as a protector to the dog that Finch found and now looks after. When Finch sees there is a storm coming that they may not survive, he packs up his dog and his robot and they head out in an RV across the treacherous, barren landscape, in hopes of somehow finding a more hospitable place.
Yes, Finch is a road movie. And yes, it is a cheesy, emotionally manipulative journey with Tom Hanks and a dog, with an adorable robot thrown in for comic relief and a way for Hanks’s character to talk to something more interactive than a volleyball. But would you really expect—or want—anything else? Despite the immediate similarities the film conjures up in its opening minutes, reminding viewers of everything from The Walking Dead to Midnight Sky to WALL-E to The Martian to I Am Legend, Finch does find its way to a unique tale soon enough. Luck and Powell are able to walk the fine line between hopeless and hopeful in their storytelling, allowing enough of Finch’s backstory to seep in to help us understand his motivations and creates enough of a desperate situation to engage the audience in his plight.
But Finch is clearly designed to engage the heart much more than the mind, as there comes a point early on when there are so many questions that aren’t answered that the only way to watch the film is to just go with it. If you are able to do that, the film becomes thoroughly entertaining and surprisingly compelling. The special effects are quite impressive, and the production values are first-rate throughout. Sapochnik wisely lets Hanks do all the heavy lifting, and gives him plenty of room to explore his character. Hanks has always been an actor at home with himself on screen, wearing his experiences on his face and physically transforming as needed, to fully capture the story. Hanks looks and feels worn down as Finch, driven not by some grand desire to save humanity, but just a simple desire to save himself—and his dog. That’s the other thing about Tom Hanks that is so wonderful—he is not afraid to let a dog and a robot steal the show.
And steal the show they do, especially the robot, as voiced by Caleb Landry Jones. Jones, best-known as the creepy, sadistic brother in Get Out, finds his dryly comic, charming and warm self as Jeff, the robot who has been programmed to act and think like a human, but is far from perfect, learning more from trial and error than any database. Jones steals much of the movie away from Hanks with his stylish delivery and inflections. An interesting choice by the filmmakers is to make Jeff’s ultra-robotic voice at the beginning gradually become less and less machine-like by the end of the film. In any other film, it would be an ominous telltale sign that the robot is evolving and will soon become dangerously and threateningly sentient. But Finch lets all the dangerously ominous come from the setting and the fact that Tom Hanks plays a character who essentially knows he’s going to die, so he builds a robot that can take care of his dog after he’s gone. It’s really simplistic and, yes, massively manipulative, but it also really works.
Finch may not be for young kids, but it most definitely is a film for the entire family. It is an adventure, a comedy, a warning and a guidepost to human decency that is heartwarming and never not welcome. Throw in Tom Hanks, a funny robot and an adorable dog, and you’ve got laughter through the tears. Sure, Finch may be simplistic, manipulative and cheesy, but who says that’s always a bad thing. Bring your cold, dead heart to it with an open mind and you just may be surprised.
Originally published on AwardsWatch.