An extremely moving existential drama
There’s nothing like coming home after a long and busy day, settling down to relax with your dog at your feet and a good book in your hand. It’s domestic nirvana, especially when feeling tired after the day’s demands. And so it is for Finch (Tom Hanks), who we see relaxing at home with Goodyear, his loyal canine companion. He even has a book in his hands, although its title gives away the fact that life isn’t exactly blissful for him. “The Effects of Exposure to Radiation” is hardly the page-turner that many of us would reach for!
At this early point in the film, we already know that Finch isn’t living a normal existence. We have just seen him escape a violent sandstorm after a day out scavenging for food. Dressed in a UV suit rather than any kind of work attire, it’s clear that his life is in peril and that he has more to worry about than the daily commute home.
We soon learn that the world is not as it once was. Thanks to a solar flare that has ripped apart the earth’s ozone layer, Finch lives in a barren and desolate land, with only his dog and his robot companion, Dewey, for company. He is one of the few survivors of an apocalypse that has wiped out most of mankind and for him, life is about survival and not a reliance on the societal norms that we take for granted.
Executive produced by Robert Zemeckis and directed by Miguel Sapochnik (Game of Thrones, Repo Men), Finch is the second Tom Hanks film to hit Apple’s streaming service after the serviceable but underwhelming World War 2 drama, Greyhound.
Like that film, Finch was due a cinema release (under the title Bios) but the real-life event that threatened our population scuppered those plans for Universal Studios. While it’s a pity a big-screen release has been denied this latest film, there is no loss of impact in its transition to the small screen.
While there are moments that are epic in scale, with sandstorms and scenes of urban desolation that are frightening to behold, this is more a human drama, and not a disaster flick akin to Geostorm or any number of Roland Emmerich films.
Tom Hanks gives an excellent performance as Finch, showing a full range of human emotions, as only an actor of his caliber can. But while he is the sole living person that we see in the film (bar one flashback sequence that explains how he and Goodyear meet), there is another character in the film that symbolises what it means to be human.
Jeff, excellently voiced and motion-captured by Caleb Landry-Jones, is a droid that Finch puts the finishing touches to before the film’s story begins in earnest. Machine in nature but alive to the thoughts, emotions, and feelings that affect every one of us, Jeff is more than a collection of metal and wires that has the ability to walk and talk.
It is the relationship between Finch and Jeff that forms the lynchpin of the film. Along with Goodyear and Dewey, they leave their St Louis home in an effort to escape an oncoming storm that threatens to wipe them all out. Their destination is San Francisco, for reasons that later become clear, and we watch as they travel together in an RV on a road trip that is quite unlike any other!
Despite the film’s post-apocalyptic landscape, don’t expect the horrors of The Road or the action-packed battles that exist in the Mad Max series of films. This is more of an existential drama and is one that is extremely moving. It’s a rather sad tale at its heart, largely because of the tragic situation that causes Finch to create Jeff as his second robot companion. But despite the sense of sadness that prevails, this isn’t as sombre a drama as similar entries in the post-apocalyptic genre.
This is a surprisingly comical tale at times, largely thanks to Jeff and the moments of levity that he provides. You will probably chuckle when you watch him clumsily try to come to terms with his newly-created body and you will likely smile at Finch’s annoyed reactions every time Jeff relays a useless fact or when he misinterprets the instructions he is given. He is a delightful character, slightly reminiscent of Chappie or Johnny from Short Circuit, although, despite the light relief that he provides, things do take a more sombre turn when the reasoning behind his existence starts to weigh heavily on him as the film’s story progresses.
As a film, it is certainly very topical. While a solar flare is blamed for the destruction of the planet, Finch lets Jeff know that humans played their part in their own destruction. “They tried to pretend it wasn’t happening,” he says at one point, which is a timely warning to climate change deniers. It’s also a warning to every one of us and our own environmental responsibility.
Still, don’t expect a film that sermonizes the need to go green! There are certainly ecological lessons to be gained from Finch but its biggest focus is on the responsibility we have to the people closest to us. Through the three major relationships featured in the film – Finch and Goodyear, Finch and Jeff, and Jeff and Goodyear – we are taught the importance of loving and protecting one another on a small rather than universal scale.
Tom Hanks is obviously the film’s big draw. He is great in everything he does, even in films that aren’t worthy of his talents, such as the dull and laborious The DaVinci Code. However, he isn’t the sole reason to watch the film.
Landry Jones, who was ever so sinister in the brilliant social horror film Get Out, also does outstanding work here, imbuing Jeff with humanity and all the emotions that come with that through his vocal performance. Funny one moment, sad the next, and showing more compassion than many humans I know, Landry Jones ensures Jeff is the beating heart of the film, despite his character’s metallic appearance.
If you haven’t yet had your fill of sand after seeing Dune on the big screen, this equally sand-swept tale is definitely worth your time. It’s one of the best films I have seen in a while and is one that will sit with me in the days, weeks, and months to come.
You will laugh, you will cry, and you’ll be encouraged to reflect on your life and the greater world around you, as you become wrapped up in the lives of Finch, his dog, and his loyal robotic companions.
Finch releases on AppleTV+ worldwide on Friday 5th November!
Verdict - 8/10