There are three characters in Finch, and only one of them is human. Luckily that human is Tom Hanks, playing a dying scientist training a robot to take care of his dog in the delightful latest release from Apple+.
That we’ve already seen and loved Tom Hanks screaming at inanimate objects for an entire movie (Castaway – WILSON!) and enjoyed whimsical, anthropomorphic robots wheeling around post-apocalyptic landscapes searching for the meaning of life in another (the great Wall E) makes it seem like a concept combining the two would be somehow hack, derivative, unoriginal. Yet Finch feels downright innovative, boldly trusting that Tom Hanks training a robot to take care of his dog in a post-cataclysm Earth is a sentiment sweet and humane enough to carry an entire movie.
It is. And the fact that Miguel Sapochnik and his writers, Craig Luck and Ivor Powell, simply trusted this impulse enough not to saddle it with unnecessary narrative fluff makes it even sweeter. Virtually any other movie like this would’ve given Finch Goldstein (Hanks’ character) 10 unnecessary sob backstories, about his wife, about his family, about his important work as a scientist, and blah blah blah. But that would’ve only cheapened it. For all the movies where the hero, or worse, the thousands more where a tertiary character, sacrifice themselves to save their child or for the good of humanity, is there anything more altruistic and life-affirming than a guy spending his final hours trying to provide for a creature that shares none of his DNA in a world where humans may be extinct? What a sweet idea.
Caleb Landry Jones voices the robot, Jeff, who sounds a little like a computerized Borat at first, and increasingly human as he learns to communicate. With a character design that lands somewhere between The Iron Giant and Johnny 5, he works at least as well as any human character would. Which, like his forebears, makes him function as a simple affirmation of consciousness. The dog, it must be said, is also an incredibly handsome boy, a dead ringer for Spots from Isle Of Dogs who steals every scene he’s in.
Produced by Amblin Partners, a descendant of Amblin Entertainment, which gave us ET and Back To The Future, Finch is every bit the Amblin Entertainment version of Chappie; nothing more and nothing less. Little else even needs to be said. For all the filmmakers who have invoked Amblin and eighties Spielberg as a stylistic touchstone, Finch comes about as close as I’ve seen to actually capturing it.