Tom Hanks is such a singular talent that merely invoking his name conjures an array of images from standout performances. In some projects, the man is a living, breathing example of shorthand character development at its best. Director Miguel Sapochnik totally understands this concept, as well as the great appeal of Hanks in Finch‘s titular role, to a fantastic extent. It’s because of this understanding that the movie features what is arguably Tom Hanks’ most human performance yet. And as if that weren’t enough, Finch takes stories both robotic and apocalyptic and spins them into a new conceit that allows for great emotional payoff.
In the world of Finch, set in the not-too-distant-future, a solar flare wrecks havoc on the ozone layer, and makes life on Earth a bit of a living hell. Our avatar in this dangerous world is Finch Weinberg, Tom Hanks’ everyman protagonist. Living in a robotics lab underground, the eponymous inventor cares for his dog Goodyear (Seamus), and works to create a special robotic companion who will eventually be named Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones) – the intention being that he can care for Finch’s scruffy pup when he’s gone. It all sounds rather formulaic when you lay it out on paper, but the film gets quite a bit of mileage out of its unique perspectives on robots, the apocalypse, and road trips involving both.
Finch takes a well-worn idea and gives it an endearingly wholesome spin.
Writers Craig Luck and Ivor Powell could have gone so many different ways with the reality that Finch is based in. Audiences could enter this film with a pretty good idea what’s going to happen, as we see some of the standard apocalyptic and robotic story tropes play out. Caleb Landry Jones’ Jeff has some trouble following orders from Tom Hanks’ Finch; some important lessons about trusting people in the wasteland are doled out; and there is a compulsion to visit DoesTheDogDie.com numerous times during Finch’s turbulent quest.
And yet, just as Jones’ developing robotic intelligence develops throughout the film, so does the emotional catharsis of Tom Hanks’ Finch. By teaching his artificially intelligent companion the lessons he feels are most important, we get a window into this man’s backstory without conventional flashbacks. Save for other figures shown in abstract, Finch focuses on the three characters most important to the story, opting to draw the broader scope of the picture through set pieces and stunning vistas.
Tom Hanks and Caleb Landry Jones’ character work helps Finch stand out from other post-apocalyptic/robotic epics.
If you wanted to analyze the DNA of Finch’s story, it’s a cross between Wall-E, I Am Legend, and I, Robot – but the movie borrows sparingly from each of those films, and only does so when it comes to macro ideas. Tom Hanks’ eponymous character does scavenge a wasteland with his dog in tow as he intends to build a sentient-enough robot to take care of his pet. It all works so well because of the fact that not only is Finch’s script a nice, tight affair, but it gives Tom Hanks and Caleb Landry Jones the chance to carry the narrative with gentle grace.
Hanks’ Finch is lovable and bound to be a character that folks peg as a “true Hanks role.” As he gets to really dig into the perils and pitfalls in the life of Finch Weinberg, the actor is allowed to do stuff we rarely see. At various points, the progressively sicker Finch gets to lash out in anger at his artificial companion, with one conversation late in the film sticking out as a highlight. We’re not just given the perfect, stoic Tom Hanks we’ve come to expect in Finch, as the mythic actor is allowed to be a flawed, but warm individual.
Equally impressive is the fact that Caleb Landry Jones gets to build and evolve a personality as Jeff. The standard hallmarks of learning to walk and talk are present, and we’re very much seeing the robot act as a fish out of water. Rather than just becoming perfect at everything out of the box, Jeff displays steady growth in intelligence. This leaves Finch great opportunities to fill in its titular character’s backstory, while also keeping Jeff’s journey fresh and interesting.
You are definitely going to need your tissues for Finch.
If you’ve seen the trailers for Finch, you know that the movie is setting up for some heavy stuff in-between moments of robotic misunderstandings and climactic dust storms. This is, after all, an apocalypse, and those sorts of events invite danger at every turn. But while you’ll absolutely need your tissues for Tom Hanks’ latest adventure in isolation, it’s not because Finch is actively trying to push the audience through an emotional ringer. This isn’t a grand Walking Dead style apocalypse where only the strong survive, and a war is ready to break out every five minutes. Nor is it a light and fluffy romp like The Mitchells vs. The Machines, where memes and humor save the day.
Finch is a film where the main thrust is a singular person learning to improve the way he sees himself, and to teach another generation of caretakers to leave things better than how they found them. While it doesn’t shy away from darkness, tragedy, and heartbreak, Finch is still a hopeful film that wants its audience to believe in a better tomorrow. With a proper balance in tones, and a beautiful chemistry between Tom Hanks and Caleb Landry Jones, it’s not a hard message to buy into as it comes as naturally as the lyrics to Don McLean’s “American Pie.”