For a film where just one of the three named characters is an actual person, Finch exists as a surprisingly moving exploration of what it means to be human. Beyond Tom Hanks as the title character, Miguel Sapochnik’s sci-fi drama only features an adorably scruffy dog and a gangly robot making their way across a post-apocalyptic United States. A robot teaching on-screen humans — and off-screen ones as well — about the nature of humanity may be nothing new (see 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, 1999’s The Iron Giant, 2008’s Wall-E, 1999’s Bicentennial Man, 2014’s Ex Machina, ad infinitum), but Finch manages to feel fresh despite all the cinematic machines we’ve seen before.
Finch opens on a windy, dusty landscape so alien it could be mistaken for a distant planet, if it weren’t for the detritus of human civilization like husks of cars and overturned shopping carts. Finch Weinberg (Hanks) appears to be one of the few survivors after a solar flare and the ensuing panic have driven humanity to the brink of extinction, but radiation sickness has doomed him to soon join the billions of dead. The robotics engineer has holed up at his job, where he has created a droid with a single purpose: to protect Finch’s dog after his imminent death. When a weeks-long superstorm drives them out of their haven in St. Louis, the trio journey in an RV toward San Francisco, avoiding the deadly rays of the sun and the threat of desperate people.
We’ve seen Hanks carrying a film in isolation before, thanks to 2000’s Cast Away (no offense, Wilson), but despite all appearances, Finch isn’t that. The Oscar-winning actor isn’t just playing off himself here as the engineer who was anti-social even before the collapse of society. There are charming interactions with the beloved dog, of course, but what makes Finch work is the interplay with the robot. In a motion-capture performance, Caleb Landry-Jones is doing something truly magical. This isn’t the first childlike robot in movie history, but there’s something ineffable about this character, as a result of the fine work of both the actor and the crew who created him. Despite knowing the current limitations of tech, there isn’t a moment where you doubt that Hanks’ scene partner is an actual robot. It is seamless.
Beyond the effects of creating the robot, this is a surprisingly spare film. It finished production before the pandemic, but it feels like the kind of small-scale movie that would have been made in its wake (with themes to match). Though Sapochnik made a single feature before Finch — 2010’s critical and box office disappointment Repo Men — he’s better known for his work in TV, particularly Game of Thrones. The episodes he directed for the HBO juggernaut were epic ones, like “Hardhome” and “Battle of the Bastards,” but oddly, he goes much smaller for this big-screen effort (that most people will watch on Apple TV+). Despite its post-apocalyptic setting, there are no zombie hordes here. Instead, it’s just these three characters surrounded by a hostile planet. There’s some excellent world-building in the script from industry veterans and first-time screenwriters Craig Luck and Ivor Powell. Sometimes the movie relies too heavily on the dog’s cuteness, but this is a small complaint. (It’s a cute dog!)
Finch may be about America’s Dad dying at the end of the world, but this sweet and funny drama is somehow anything but grim. The movie is honest about the dire situation for Finch and the human race, but hope persists, despite the circumstances. Finch and the audience share a sense of wonder over what we can accomplish, with the film itself sometimes achieving a similar sense of awe.
“Finch” streams Friday on Apple TV+.