Review: 'Finch' (2021) Dir. Miguel Sapochnik
Rising up from the "blacklist" of Hollywood projects in 2017, Robert Zemeckis produced this original film exploring what it means to be human, debuting on AppleTV instead of cinemas...
Robotics engineers Finch Weinberg (Hanks) is one of the last survivors on Earth following a huge solar flare that destroyed the O-Zone layer and turned the world into a desolate, uninhabitable wasteland.
Living with his beloved pet dog Goodyear, Finch finishes his latest creation; a robot to help care for Goodyear and support Finch as he battles with fatal radiation poisoning. Nicknamed Jeff (Jones), the robot begins his development and role as Finch's companion.
Finch takes Jeff on an extraordinary journey to relocate them all to San Francisco, and on the way understand what it means to be human, and what it means to care for others. The journey will be tough for them all, but together Finch is certain they will make a strong, united force...
Following on from 2020s Greyhound, Apple take the latest Tom Hank's project exclusively for their TV streaming service. This time it's a post-apocalyptic science-fiction drama that opens with a very WALL-E-esqe scenario of a sepia toned Earth, now a dusty, radiation-poisoned wasteland where corn kernels pop instantly in the heat. Hank's engineer / scavenger Finch Weinberg traverses the dangerous landscape with his various robotic helpers to both obtain supplies for himself and his pet dog, but also parts for Finch's latest creation in the guide of Caleb Landry Jones's 9ft tall CGI humanoid robot called Jeff.
Hanks only needs a simple story to really come into his own. No large-scale action or set-pieces or ensemble co-stars; just a story about humanity encompassing everything we've come to love about Hanks as an actor we have grown with. He's a master at being the ordinary man, dealing with ordinary emotions and acting with such subtle power that you can't help watch him and invest in the journey he's taking you on. Hanks has crafted this talent over decades and having generations grow with him, and sometimes it's nice just to spend a little time with Hanks and no other frills for a gentle little drama. And Hanks is one of those rare actors you can get emotional over watching him act alongside an inanimate object or machine.
Landry Jones gives a surprisingly placid performance as Jeff, but this works to make our artificial companion very likable and easy to connect with. There's no attempt to make his vocal performance human, and the editing and sound help make Landry Jones sound as synthetic as possible, with only small hints of emotion and tone (and talking dog) dropped in as he learns more. Since it's just Landry Jones and Hanks, their chemistry is the driving force of this journey. They work really well together, enforced more by the comical and light-hearted animation of Jeff that gives nice gentle humour to the drama.
Jeff is animated really well, with a blend of practical and CGI moving parts, limb accentuation and quirks that make him as human as possible to be an entertaining, interesting and often emotive character for Finch to ride with.
Finch is one of those small scale films that revolves around Hanks as the sole lead. There is no need for other actors. Others initially cast included Samira Wiley, Skeet Ulrich and Laura Harrier, but they were cut to streamline the narrative, and for the better. We don't need to hear or see anymore than what we are given, and we can piece some of the story together from the exposition given; huge solar flare, inhospitable wasteland, dangerous radiation, Finch preparing for the worst, and Jeff is there as an initial burden but soon irreplaceable carer and friend. Even our pup Seamus is a perfect four-legged co-star.
We are thrown into the action from the start, getting to understand the location and environment we are watching, as well as letting Hanks's inimitable warmth and "everyday man" persona welcome us into Finch's world of simplicity, and there are some powerful and tender moments in this, driven by Hanks and his talent as an actor working with very simple and humane themes such as survival and friendship, but never afraid to show his weaknesses and fragility, which makes him perfect for roles like this when he's not out to be a hero or saviour or legend - just a man.
Design wise, Finch ticks the boxes for a post-apocalyptic world; deserted buildings and cities, stamped with graffiti and ruins and booby traps left by unseen survivors of the radiation fallout. It's not a film that looks washed out at all, but certainly dreams up a feeling of isolation with our leads in an empty, dangerous world. The theme of survival is never forgotten, even when you think it's just a gentle road trip movie.
The story is one we have seen before, but again it's about the way it is handled and presented. Writers Craig Luck and Ivor Powell are comfortable making this a familiar road movie / drama with elements of science-fiction peppered throughout. The barren landscapes of a post-apocalyptic America are pretty in their own dismal way, and the crew don't taken any risks or make any bold statements in their techniques used. A gentle score by British composer Tim Porter compliment the gentle pace, gentle framing and gentle themes. It's a gentle film, but speaking a powerful message.
As the story progresses, don't be surprised to find yourself moved by the growing companionship between man and robot. The exploration of what it means to be human, if handled well like it is here, always makes for slightly predictable but always engaging and emotional viewing.
'Finch' rides on the skill of Tom Hanks as an actor, supported by an entertaining vocal performance by Caleb Landry Jones and a CGI robot named Jeff in this often moving, humorous and tense journey about survival and friendship.
'Finch' is a co-production between Amblin Entertainment, Reliance Entertainment, Walden Media, ImageMovers and Misher Films