Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Writers: Craig Luck, Ivor Powell
Cast: Tom Hanks, Caleb Landry Jones
Cinematographer: Jo Willems
Editor: Tim Porter
Streaming on: Apple TV+
On the scale of the ‘man and his dog brave the end of the world’ subgenre of film, Finch skews less towards the desperate urgency of I Am Legend (2007) and more towards the warmth and charm of Love and Monsters (2020). It’s perceptively designed, almost as if by some shrewd algorithm, as a showcase for the Tom Hanks Greatest Hits collection, appealing to our affection for the archetypes this actor has embodied in the past. Did you enjoy watching him play the upstanding citizen, saving one man, like in Bridge of Spies (2015), or many, like in Sully (2016)? In the company of a cute dog like in Turner and Hooch (1989)? On the vestiges of civilisation, imbuing non-human creations with sentience to keep sane like in Castaway (2000)? Great news: Finch combines all three in an endearing tale of a man who, anticipating his eventual death in a post-apocalyptic world, begins to build and program a robot to care for his dog.
This Hanks isn’t the same bronzed, lithe sun god who engineered an escape from a remote island in Castaway. As the inventor Finch Weinberg, he’s pale and fragile. His bones ache. He coughs with an awful hacking sound. Physical exertion leaves him wheezing and the strain of mental calculations makes him screw his eyes shut in despair. There’s great economy of storytelling here – audiences are shown, instead of told, what Finch is dying of when ‘The Effects of Exposure to Ionizing Radiation’ becomes his light bedtime reading. When he asks his robot what its four prime directives are in another scene and it responds with ‘A robot cannot harm a human,’ it’s immediately apparent what the next two are. A lingering shot of canned peaches in his fridge bears the implication that Finch is saving it for a special occasion, which turns out to be more of a Last Supper when forecasts of a superstorm cause him to pack up and flee with his dog and robots.
Emmy-winning Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik brings his talent for depicting sheer scale to the film’s apocalyptic universe. Early on, walls of dust dwarf Finch as they hurtle towards him, evoking the same sense of awe as the waves on Miller’s planet in Interstellar (2014), if not the same sense of impending doom. The sequence’s sound design, which pairs a high-pitched tinny noise with the rhythmic thump of Finch’s heartbeat, effectively conjures the disorientation of being caught in a sandstorm. In another scene, a moment of absolute stillness before a tornado batters his RV amplifies its anticipated impact.
But if this is the end of the world, the soundtrack didn’t get the memo. Upbeat songs punctuate the proceedings, from Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ to Talking Heads’ ‘Road to Nowhere’. In this universe, the fury of the sun is enough to blister skin, but the film, intent on crafting moments of joy, finds place for a sequence in which Finch demonstrates the art of popcorn-making on a sun-warmed metal plate, to the delight of his robot who cheers, ‘Again! Again!” with childlike glee. This lightness keeps the film watchable without the heaviness of its premise inducing fatigue, but as a consequence, the stakes feel slight. A solid mid-film stretch plays out like a horror movie, Finch’s mounting panic at the fear of being pursued in the dead of night accompanied by a tense score, but ends abruptly and without resolution, as though Sapochnik decided it belonged in a different film.
Hanks is brilliantly brittle, alternately indulgent towards and frustrated by the actions of his still-evolving robot, but Caleb Landry Jones, voicing the over-apologetic and lovably literal-minded AI, emerges as the film’s standout performance. Over the course of the film, his voice goes from robotic to more human as he begins to understand his purpose and gives himself a name. Giving a survivor in an apocalyptic narrative a canine companion works well because it creates the opportunity for speech in an otherwise one-person situation. Adding a robot to the mix coverts the monologue into a dialogue, making for moving conversations about life, love and loss. Finch plays out exactly as you’d expect, unabashedly tugging at your heart at several points, set to a swelling score. But, accompanied by the delightful trio of Finch, his dog and his robot, it’s a journey worth undertaking.