Films set in apocalyptic setting is quite popular in Hollywood and in FINCH we’ve got Tom Hanks in the title role as practically the last man on earth. He seems to be quite chirpy given living in a post-apocalyptic earth that has devastated the world’s civilization. He’s singing along to his favorite song as he and his dog-like robot Dewey, which is tasked to collect things when they scour abandoned warehouses or stores etc. searching for food and supplies. Within just a few minutes, we get an idea just how hazardous life has become for humans that he has to wear a protective UV suit and helmet to be outside. The air and atmosphere has become toxic and the suit also protects him against extreme heat.
As if that isn’t perilous enough, he also have to deal with unpredictable dust storms that could come at any moment. The opening scene shows Finch barely escaping the storm as he rides his truck to get home safely. The key to dystopian sci-fi movies is in world-building, that the filmmakers have to convince us of the treacherous condition at the end of the world. Director Miguel Sapochnik (most notably known for directing Game of Thrones’ penultimate sixth episode Battle of the Bastards), working on a script by Craig Luck and Ivor Powell does that effectively and in an engaging way.
When Finch reaches his makeshift home that resembles a lab in an abandoned warehouse, he’s greeted by his dog, an adorable brown Irish Terrier mix he named Goodyear. It’s quite an unusual name for a dog but later we learn more about how he first saw his beloved furry friend. The dust storm convinces Finch that he can’t stay in his home and must get to a safer location in order to survive. Well, his science & engineering skills has definitely come in handy for Finch, as he’s able to create these robots and other tools to help him survive the apocalypse.
In many humans + robots movie, we usually just accept that the robots already exist, but I love that we’re shown how Finch builds his droid and his euphoric excitement when his creation finally does what he intends it to do. Jeff, voiced by Caleb Landry Jones, is absolutely delightful right from the start. The scenes when he first utter a word, answers Finch’s questions and learn to walk, etc. is wonderfully staged. The moment the robot comes up with a name for himself is both funny and moving, there’s something so earnest in Jeff’s child-like behavior that’s so endearing.
The second and third act is basically a road movie where Finch, Jeff and Goodyear travel together in a specifically-equipped RV to leave their home in St. Louis to San Francisco. What is in SF is explained later in the movie, but it’s not really important as I was already invested in their journey. Now, this is not a thriller or sci-fi horror, so people expecting some violent attacks or action-packed fight scenes with fellow earth survivors (or worse, aliens) will be disappointed. There is only one scary incident at an abandoned supermarket that’s told in flashback, which explains Goodyear’s origin story, but the gruesome bit is never shown. I actually like the fact that Finch is more of an existential drama and a story about relationships and what is meaningful to us in life.
Despite the inherently distressing end-of-the-world topic and Finch’s terminal illness, the film’s tone is pretty light with plenty of humorous moments throughout the journey. The banters between Finch and Jeff are amusing but also reminds us what it means to be human. Jeff’s antics also provide levity and laugh-out-loud moments even when you know the droid is misbehaving. Despite looking very much like a droid with skeletal machinery, there are times where I wanted to give Jeff a hug given how human-like he’s become. The environmental message about global warming and taking care of our earth before it’s too late is obvious but also feels organic to the characters’ journey instead of being forced down our throats. One particular scene towards the end certainly makes me appreciate just being able to be outside and breathe fresh air without having to wear any protective gear.
Hanks proves once again that he is such a charismatic actor that he could hold the audience’s interest all by himself. I think a film like this definitely has to have an actor who is immensely watchable. At the same time, given the inherent similarities to the one-man-show of Castaway, I wonder what it would be like if they had cast a different actor with similar charisma and an every-man quality, perhaps Ben Mendelsohn?
As Jeff the droid, Caleb Landry Jones is astounding. Hanks revealed in a recent interview that on top of providing the voice work, Landry Jones actually performed a lot of Jeff’s movements, wearing a robot suit which is then replaced with CGI. Jeff is definitely one my favorite movie robots now. The friendship that forms between Jeff and Finch are wonderful to watch. The dog takes a while to trust Jeff, but the eventual bonding moments are endearing.
Overall FINCH is quite a moving and heartfelt sci-fi drama that got me tearing up a few times. For a film with such a dire subject matter, it ends with an uplifting and hopeful note that leaves a sweet, instead of bitter, after taste.