“Finch” is a tale of survival in a hostile post-apocalyptic vision of Earth, lashed by the searing by a solar flare that has irrevocably altered the climate and decimated modern technology. It’s here that director Miguel Sapochnik and writers Craig Luck and Ivor Powell muse on the meaning of life with a photogenic dog, a kinda creepy robot named Jeff and the singular Tom Hanks.
An exceptional actor, Hanks proves the rule that working with pets, green screen and a ball on a stick to represent a robot requires a special kind of performer. Hanks plays an engineer who, along with his dog, systematically scavenge a mostly inhospitable landscape for supplies and technology. Unfortunately, Finch’s health is deteriorating fast, so he creates a robotic companion, Jeff (Caleb Landy Jones), to help carry the load and ultimately support and sustain his canine companion in the event of Finch’s passing.
There’s something that I like about “Finch”, that I don’t like about so many recent films of its ilk. In the world where technology makes anything possible – there’s a caveat. So many films that claim that they can be in any location or at any time and realistically depict the filmmaker’s imagination – in this case future cataclysmic events that bring humanity to its knees – simply can not.
The gamification of moviemaking has resulted in huge films stripping away more and more of people’s life/background/tapestry to tell their stories. Netflix’s recent “Red Notice” features an entire bullfighting scene where the stadium, the patrons, the bull and the stars looked like they were either digitally created or stitched together.
A byproduct of the ubiquity of gaming is that the viewing audiences have become sophisticated in discerning the computer-generated ‘strings’ pulling these digital puppets. Often real sets are required to offset that and soften the harsh leaps from tactile to digital landscapes.
In these dystopian futures, the most fascinating and resonant stories find a way to bring you the flecks of life as we know amidst the muck of that vision. “Finch” so terrifically strikes the balance of ambition and familiarity.
Sapochnik, as much as possible, keeps the terrifying and extreme weather in the background and uses classic formal trickery to convey the soaring temperatures, mass desertion and stained desolation. The Apple TV+ budgets do not seem to be a problem whatsoever. Sapochnik relishes these silos of safety like industrial bunkers, from abandoned graffiti-covered buildings to motor homes that provide Finch with the forums to hold court in his series of echo chambers.
Hanks is an actor that can command your attention with the littlest amount of alchemy from other performers (in this case, primarily an animal). Whether it’s a slobbering side-kick in “Turner and Hooch” or a blood-smeared volleyball in “Castaway,” Hanks wields an emotional grappling hook out of the screen and implicitly captivates. The way he both creates and navigates the emotional reality of the eponymous “Finch” ultimately makes the film.
Finch waxes lyrically about the enduring quality of life and exhibits the wide-eyed, ferocious and crippling fear that makes him look for all the hope and potential in humanity in a synthetic, compliant being. He is programming for the best elements of society, yet none of those aspects has imprinted upon him in this landscape, thereby assisting in his ability to endure.
Caleb Landry Jones’ early career is typified by playing characters – usually bad guys – that leave the audience savagely screeching for blood. The choice to use Jones with an augmented accent is interesting as this creation audibly reinforces the visual hesitation captured in Finch’s dog for the duration.
Sapochnik, Luck and Powell frame this robotic creation as a kind of proto-parenting. Jeff’s modest yet blooming artificial intelligence is only limited by his coding (tech genetics) and his education (nurturing). Not helping is that Finch, in many ways, is the most confusing paradoxical parent. His fear expresses anger, and his unrealistic expectations are epiphany triggers that cut deep and ring true.
“Finch” feels like dystopic sci-fi’s greatest hits, but man, if the consistently flooring and loveable Tom Hanks is the frontman, I’m in.