Directed by Miguel Sapochnik.
Starring Tom Hanks and Caleb Landry Jones.
On a post-apocalyptic earth, a robot, built to protect the life of his creator’s beloved dog, learns about life, love, friendship, and what it means to be human.
Can man’s best friend also be machine’s best friend? It’s rare to see a post-apocalyptic story (in this case, one brought on by the destruction of the ozone) with few characters and even less conflict. Directed by Miguel Sapochnik (helmer of some of Game of Thrones‘ more action-oriented and finest episodes), Finch centers on the titular programmer (played by reliable all-time great Tom Hanks) struggling to survive alongside his canine companion Goodyear with the assistance of a utility robot. From the opening moments, as Finch makes a supply run (complete with an ionizing radiation protective suit and equipment to detect spikes), it’s evident from his coughing that he is terminally sick. Nevertheless, he returns with dog food for Goodyear.
Finch also decides to program various information books into a new robot he is building in his spare time at a safe house. Specifically, this would be a talking machine strictly following a directive to take care of and look after Goodyear at any cost, signifying that Finch is preparing for his death. Several sandstorms are about to intersect en route to their location, so training will have to be done on the road in Finch’s modified RV (the outdoor heat is no joke).
The situation allows for a great deal of fish-out-of-water humor (perhaps slightly too much in the early going) as the robot (who comes to be known as Jeff after some deliberation on what he wants to be named, but more shockingly is unrecognizably and charmingly voiced and outstandingly motion captured by Caleb Landry Jones for what is instantly one of his best performances) takes its time downloading all of the information being programmed inside him. Essentially, Jeff starts as a baby learning how to talk and walk, gradually molded into a looter, survivor, protector, and companion for Goodyear when Finch inevitably passes on. There’s also a through-line touching on trust as Finch opens up about his messy past in hopes of strengthening Jeff’s bond with Goodyear.
Paramount to the film’s success, the chemistry between Tom Hanks and Caleb Landry Jones (Jeff seems to be operated skillfully by a group of puppeteers) is winningly lighthearted with reality checks about the dire situation and living conditions when necessary. Opposite to the weather and the actual movie, Finch is refreshingly breezy for an apocalyptic scenario (it’s also penned by writers Craig Luck and Ivan Powell), taking a unique approach on what it means to be human during trying times (something that’s been done to death in similar stories). The difference is that here the filmmakers, despite characters acknowledging the expected human savagery in the wake of global despair and no electricity, abstain from introducing villainous humans or anyone else at all. There’s a brief flashback for Finch with maybe 30 seconds of three other characters, but that’s it. The narrative tightly and firmly focuses on the evolving dynamics between man, dog, and machine to heartfelt effectiveness.
It’s also a reminder that having a story’s trajectory laid out before one doesn’t take away from its emotional impact so long as the execution is stellar. And while Finch can get a bit bogged down by exposition in the third act, the pacing is mainly fine, giving characters enough time to interact with a familiar apocalyptic setting, but one nonetheless vividly brought to life with rich cinematography from Jo Willems and a melancholy guitar score from The Last of Us composer Gustavo Santaolalla. From other projects mentioned so far in this review, it is evident that there is plenty of talent behind Finch, so it’s also noteworthy that Robert Zemeckis also serves as an executive producer, which is fascinating considering the movie is a lot closer in fantastical tone to some of his best works, all while making the Amblin label proud.
Thankfully, the sum of those parts weaves into a satisfyingly moving whole, with terrific turns from Tom Hanks and Caleb Landry Jones. Finch practically tells viewers where it’s going from the beginning, but the journey there is emotional all the same.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com