Finch debuts on Apple TV+ on Nov. 5.
Apple TV+’s Finch stars Tom Hanks as an engineer trying to survive in a stunningly bleak post-apocalyptic wasteland with the help of a robot he builds from scavenged parts and scanned books. The resulting AI, Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones), is charmingly human in his efforts to please his creator, but the film itself lacks the same animating spark. The script by Craig Luck and Ivor Powell feels like a soulless imitation of better films.
In the near future, solar flares have shredded Earth’s ozone and left the planet an irradiated desert. Hanks’ Finch Weinberg was a misanthrope even before the disaster and blames humanity’s poor reaction to the crisis for how devastating it became, but having an external cause for the catastrophe creates an unnecessary level of abstraction from what could otherwise be a dark warning about effects of climate change.
Finch’s isolation evokes Hanks’ Academy Award-nominated role in Cast Away, while his methodical, engineering solutions to a series of crises he must face alone are more similar to Matt Damon’s performance in The Martian. But in both those cases, the toll of loneliness feels stronger. Finch is never really alone but accompanied by his dog, Goodyear; Dewey, a scavenging robot that resembles Wall-E; and Jeff, who is capable of having real conversations and taking initiative even when his judgment isn’t sound.
The tension Cast Away and The Martian built around whether their protagonists would survive is also lacking here, since it’s clear from very early on that the radiation has caught up to Finch. Jeff is built with Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, preventing him from harming humans, plus a fourth law that trumps the others — take care of Goodyear when Finch can’t do so himself. This seems like a recipe for disaster, as the extremely strong robot could kill to protect the dog and would no longer have a purpose when the animal dies. But Finch and the film’s writers don’t seem particularly concerned with that conflict.
If Jeff was programmed to try to help heal the world or save humanity in the mold of Wall-E or 9, Finch’s efforts would feel more meaningful. Instead, a certain futility permeates the entire film. The stirring melancholy score from The Last of Us composer Gustavo Santaolalla adds to the feeling of despair, and yet the movie fails to earnestly commit to the theme. Setbacks that seem like they should derail Finch’s quixotic quest to reach the Golden Gate Bridge before he dies have no real impact beyond upsetting him in the moment. Persistent hazards melt away with no real explanation.
While the story is by no means cohesive, it can coast by at times through its spectacular visuals. The lonely devastation is reminiscent of 28 Days Later and I Am Legend, while the menacing sandstorms Finch must regularly flee stack up against any disaster movie. Jeff also looks fantastic as he flexes his articulated fingers while considering Finch’s teachings or awkwardly lumbers along following his creator with the same devotion as Goodyear. Director Miguel Sapochnik (who won an Emmy for his work on Game of Thrones’ famous “Battle of the Bastards”) does excellent work alternating between claustrophobic crumbling spaces where Finch and his robot companions scavenge and the vast vistas of the American southwest. Yet the suspense he tries to build as Finch flees from the elements and other survivors always feels muted because the film’s outcome is so grimly inevitable.
Hanks brings a charm and vulnerability to so many of his roles and Finch is no exception. Relatively little is shared about Finch’s history, and some of the explanation that is there actually feels unnecessary because Hanks does such a good job evoking how broken he was even before the world fell apart and the solace he’s found in his strange tribe.
But it’s really Jones who steals the show with his flat delivery and naivete as he points out the circuitous answers Finch gives to his questions or declares himself an excellent driver shortly after colliding with a building in Finch’s impressively modified RV. There’s an especially goofy dynamic between Jeff and Goodyear, who hates and mistrusts his robot guardian, though the turning point in their relationship is so painfully obvious it cheapens the progress made before then.
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