Proving Tom Hanks can still carry a film on his shoulders, Miguel Sapochnik’s Finch is an enjoyable and sentimental journey that shows the love between a man, his dog…and his robot.
The world has effectively ended. Solar flares have killed many of the people and the rest have resorted to living out of society and fighting for food and shelter. The holes in the ozone layer have made living in the sun impossible, so the surviving humans must don radiation suits or stay in the shade to live.
In St. Louis, Missouri, Finch (Tom Hanks) scours the remains of the city for supplies. He has cleared most of the city looking for dog food for his pet Goodyear. Each day, he returns to his workplace/home to work on an android to help care for Goodyear. Finch is able to successfully boot up the android he later names Jeff (voiced and played in motion capture by Caleb Landry Jones). When Finch’s lab is threatened by a long-lasting storm, he is forced to take Jeff, Goodyear, and smaller android Dewey on the road headed to the west coast.
Post-apocalyptic films can often tread the areas, but Finch takes the more unique approach of natural reasoning. This is not something we did to ourselves, but something that was out of our control and Finch got lucky in order to survive. Finch is not doing what he is doing because he is better than everyone else, but because he is a workaholic, he was safe in his lab.
Cities are more like deserts and sand covers what isn’t protected. In addition to the dusty landscape, Sapochnik sets the action in St. Louis and bypasses the “famous landmarks covered in moss” that other films love to include. Instead, the film can focus on the smallness of the setting and ground it in a realistic reality.
This is no spoiler, but Finch is dying from radiation poisoning. His entire purpose for building Jeff is to take care of Goodyear once he is gone. He did not build Jeff for friendship or help for him, but solely to care for Goodyear. Every action Finch takes is not to extend his life, but to make sure Goodyear lives.
Jeff is a mix between Speak & Spell and Amelia Bedelia. His lumbering appearance is repeatedly ungraceful, but never exudes harm or terror. His docile nature immediately endures him to the audience. Goodyear’s devotion to Finch equally gives him audience goodwill.
Hanks has proven his ability to command the screen alone and this film is no different. The veteran actor is getting up there in age (he turned 65 in July) and he isn’t afraid of wearing that age on screen. While he maintains his genial nature for the majority of the film, he is also world-weary. Finch’s interactions with Jeff often conclude like a frustrated father to an innocent child. While he isn’t afraid to yell at Jeff, the audience is acutely aware of Finch’s intentions.
Jones fits Jeff like a glove. His voice begins monotone and morphs into a more streamlined rhythm. As a learning machine, he advances as the film progresses. As important as Finch is to the narrative, Jeff is more of the star of the film. Small notes of imitation, like scratching a non-existent beard, make Jeff that much more cuddly and loveable.
Despite Jeff being an android, the special effects crew should take great pride in his appearance. The suspension of disbelief is inherently there with end-of-the-world films, but Jeff feels and looks real. It never looks, and more importantly, feels fake.
Let’s not forget the true star of the film: Goodyear. Recent films have taken the steps to eliminate actual dogs from films, but Finch has Goodyear trotting along and acting like a normal dog. If there was CGI involved in Goodyear’s movements, it too is seamlessly integrated.
Finch provides a lighter, more sentimental alternative to post-apocalyptic films. While Sapochnik has mostly been relegated to television, this film could provide the launching pad to more higher-profile Hollywood fare. And just in case you were wondering if Tom Hanks still had the goods to carry a film…fear not.