Finch, the Tom Hanks led, post-apocalyptic, robot movie from the director of your favorite episode of Game of Thrones isn’t really a movie you’d expect to subvert the expectations of a viewer - most notably because it’s not based on any pre-established IP or lore - but twist and turn it does. While it’s not the wildest incarnation of this specific plot point in this specific genre, the film has a few very strong parts, (that ultimately make ignoring the lesser moments quite easy) leaving us with a modern fairy tale about trust and humanity, packaged up like a Mad Max side story that your parents would be way more into. All of this comes together quite nicely in Finch, and the film ends up giving us an exciting, funny, and sweet ride.
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik, and written by an odd pairing of a producer and a production assistant with very little other writing credits, Finch tells the tale of an aging man (the titular Finch Weinberg) in a world ravaged by a solar flare that left seemingly all of the world’s surface uninhabitable to humans, animals, and even vegetation. Finch, a robotics engineer, fills his days building little Robo-pals that help him traverse the area surrounding his compound in search of food, supplies, and the occasional can of dog chow for his roommate, Goodyear, an Irish Terrier mix. When a wicked amount of sandstorms converge on the horizon, with everything Finch has built-in their path, he hatches a plan to build a more mobile robot that can assist him and his pooch in escaping the area in time and getting to San Francisco to search for more opportunities. Another snag, however: Finch’s exposure to the radiation now covering the globe has left him dying, with no sure amount of time left, and he has encoded one very specific law into this new robot’s programming (on top of Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, of course): protect Goodyear after Finch is gone. This leads us into the bulk of the film, which involves our trio of scamps road-trippin' it across the hellish landscape of an Earth long gone, bumping into dangers, exploring the unknown, and digging into yours truly’s very favorite thing to be in a movie: Daddy Issues!
Right off the bat, this movie looks incredible, right up there with the likes of other sandy apocalypse movies in scope and detail. It’s a spoil of imagery, evenly backed up by an enormous amount of heart in its characters and themes. Much like its main character, this movie does not think too well of humanity, and in the real world that currently seems hellbent on destroying itself no matter what anybody says, these moments of hopelessness hit even harder. Sapochnik is a tried and true visual storyteller, having directed some of the most important episodes of many television series over the past 10 years, and his last film, the eternally doomed Repo Men, is a very cool-looking film with not a whole lot else going for it. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was kinda rooting for the guy on his first feature in over a decade, and I’m happy to report: ya boi did a radical job. The film’s score by Gustavo Santaolalla, of The Last of Us and Brokeback Mountain fame, is ridiculously striking, even if it is severely underused for understandable reasons.
No review of Finch (I’m looking at you, dozens of film critics who have failed the world) would be complete without talking about everybody’s favorite film from 2015: Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie. Just like you, my dear, sweet, kind reader, I was so ready to become Chappie’s boyfriend as the days grew shorter to its release upon our world. Alas, much like the way snakes must wriggle off their skin in order to grow and mature into serpents, Chappie sucked big time. That movie thinks it’s really funny and clever (it’s not), and it also suggests that the South African rap-rave group, Die Antwoord, are nice people (they are not). All of this is to say that while a dystopian tale about a hunky robot with a funny voice and a heart of gold didn’t work out as planned 6 years ago, society has become a goldfish, and Finch is just another time to take a crack at it. And for my money, it succeeds.
Tom Hanks is no stranger to pulling off a dramatic story practically on his own, having obviously done this very thing in Cast Away, and ol’ reliable is just as charming and locked in as ever. Hanks offers fragility to so many of his roles, it’s one of the most endearing tools in his kit as an actor. We, as a species, love Tom Hanks, and placing him in roles of underdogs or characters burdened with defeat is always a great way to really bring that twinkle in his eye out. But he’s not fully alone this time around, replacing the bloodstained, hay-haired volleyball from Cast Away with Jeff, the robot he’s built to protect his dog after he’s gone, portrayed here both in voice and motion capture by the guardian of nightmares, Caleb Landry Jones. Landry Jones is a wonder as Jeff, slowly evolving the character vocally, physically, and emotionally throughout the course of the film. He practically single-handedly hammers home the theme of what it means to be human, a very obvious choice for a film about a learning robot.
This all ties into the subversion I had mentioned at the top of this review. While Finch is an original story in a technical sense, we’ve seen this type of movie dozens of times before, whether it be with robots, animals, or just plain ol’ outcasts of society: the arc of a character that learns of the world’s beauty and horrors, but chooses to embrace and believe in the former, while cautiously respecting the latter, through trial and error events. Without going into specifics, there are moments in this film where you think you know what it’s building up to (and honestly in some moments you’ll be correct) when the film simply slows down to a halt and ponders on the reasoning why. For a PG-13 movie with a robot that we’re shown is incredibly strong and tasked with protection, but also has the understanding of a child, there’s not a lot of outright violence, something that I was expecting to come up at some point, and I don’t think it was a miscalculation on my part. We’re given several moments to show just how strong Jeff is, and even more moments of Finch explaining to him how dangerous the people out in the world are. By avoiding these tropes, the film relishes the sweetness and humanity of all three of its main characters. Yes, even the canine. Ultimately, all of these survivors have a thing or two to learn about trust and what it means to be human in the sense that being human is a thing to strive for, and honestly, the movie is quite firmly against that mantra as well, in its closing moments.
Finch is that special type of movie you see when it’s first released that you can’t help but think how well this bad boy is going to age as a genre cult gem. It’s got all the fixings, most especially, its genre trappings and radically awesome visual effects, but no one saw the thing. While it doesn’t blow the door down on the lovable-future-robots genre, it’s a welcome addition to that classification, and Landry Jones’ Andy Serkis-level mo-cap and voice performance is more than enough reason to toss it on.
Founder of and programmer for Story Screen. Lover of stories and pizza in the dark. When he isn't watching movies, you can find him reading things about people watching movies. He currently resides in Poughkeepsie, NY, and most assuredly is going through a French Connection phase.