When Apple announced their new streaming service there was already a pretty crowded field duking it out for subscribers. Needing a push, the tech giant dropped $70 million to acquire distribution rights to “Greyhound”, a terrific Tom Hanks led World War II action-thriller. The movie was a success for the platform, but it still wasn’t growing by leaps and bounds. Then along came a little show called “Ted Lasso”. You may have heard of it.
Since then Apple has continued to invest in quality feature films (“Coda” from earlier this year, Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” still to come). Among those investments is their latest Tom Hanks adventure “Finch”. Originally titled “BIOS” and set for a theater release by Universal Pictures, the film was snatched up by Apple, renamed, and set for an exclusive release on Apple TV+. It turns out to be yet another good move.
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik and co-written by Craig Luck and Ivor Powell, “Finch” is a delightfully intimate slice of post-apocalyptic science fiction. It sees Tom Hanks using his well known everyman charms to tell a story of a man, his dog, and a robot. But that’s just the dressing. At its core, “Finch” is a tender and heartwarming meditation on what it means to be human. I have to admit, it didn’t take me long to fall under its spell.
Hanks plays an ailing robotics engineer and inventor who goes by the name Finch. We first meet him clad in a protective suit to shield him from the lethal heat and UV rays, humming Don McLean’s “American Pie” as he scavenges for supplies in the shell of what was once St. Louis. Like most of the planet, the city is a sandy ghost town with no signs of life other than Finch and his dog Goodyear. We learn that a solar flare combined with mankind’s negligence led to an ecological disaster. With the ozone destroyed, the planet became one big desert plagued by skin-sizzling heat, deadly radiation, and violent storms.
Finch lives in an old tech facility where he still clocks in and out just to maintain some semblance of normalcy. In his abundance of spare time, he uses what remains of the facility’s equipment to build a fully functioning android (voiced by Caleb Landry Jones), a nice upgrade from his little scavenger bot that he affectionately calls Dewey. But before Finch can put the finishing touches on his creation, a massive superstorm gathers in the distance forcing them to evacuate. Finch plots a course west, over the Rocky Mountains to San Francisco. Soon he and his motley crew are in his modified RV and heading out on a road trip across the Midwest wasteland.
While the improbable journey is full of the kind of peril you would expect in a movie like this, the story is far more interested in Finch and his relationship with the android who later becomes known as Jeff. Over time we learn more about Finch: his past, his profession, his family. We learn he’s a man with regrets. “I wish I had done more with the time I had,” he laments. We also learn he’s unwell as evident by his frequent coughing fits and nose bleeds.
Over time something akin to a father-son relationship develops between the two as Finch teaches the ever inquisitive Jeff how to talk, how to walk, how to drive, how to take initiative. And with Jeff, there’s a starry-eyed admiration for Finch. A childlike trust and a sincere desire to please his new father figure. As Jeff’s programming adapts, his voice smoothens out and he shows what resembles maturity. And the more he experiences on the journey the more he begins to understand the complexity of human emotions.
One of the film’s more surprising and effective touches is in how it views things from Jeff’s fresh unclouded perspective. It may sound like a small thing, but seeing things through Jeff’s eyes really emphasizes the layers of humanity in Luck and Powell’s script. And Caleb Landry Jones’ voice work shrewdly reveals the evolution of his character while offering up some well-calibrated humor.
Sapochnik and his DP Jo Willems visualize a spectacular yet forbidding world. A desolate wasteland where grassy fields have become sand dunes and once bustling cities are nothing but scorched hulls. It’s a convincing setting that comes with its own unique set of dangers. It’s a spectacular
And of course Hanks is terrific as always, doing all of his acting next to an android and a dog. Yet he brings the same down-to-earth authenticity that’s essential to all of his performances. There’s an effortless connectability Hanks has with his audiences and he make us feel a part of any story he’s helping to tell. In this case it’s a story of the human experience. It’s a beautiful fable about what makes us who we are – our blemishes, our contradictions, our resiliency, our spirit. And who better than Tom Hanks, a robot, and a cute little pup to help us see ourselves clearer.