Some actors inspire such confidence that you can stick them in any situation and moviegoers will follow them anywhere. For over 30 years, Tom Hanks has remained a star because he has a unique ability to be such a leader, whether it’s as a child stuck in an adult’s body, an astronaut on a botched mission, a man stuck on an island with only a volleyball for company, or a cowboy fronting an eclectic group of toys.
Hanks’ latest venture is as the title character in Finch, which is set in an indeterminate future where Earth has been ravaged by solar flares. Living underground beneath a giant windmill, he uses his expertise as an engineer for an innovation company to create robots to help him and his dog, Goodyear.
Knowing that his exposure to the solar flares has likely severely limited his life expectancy, Finch creates a robot (voiced by Caleb Landry Jones) that can not only move and interact like a human in order to take care of Goodyear, but also speak and learn like one, too. When an approaching storm moves up their timeline, Finch, Goodyear, and the robot (which comes to be called by the very normal name of Jeff) set out on a road trip full of events both expected and unexpected.
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik and written by Craig Luck and Ivor Powell, the film is alternately funny, life-affirming, and heartbreaking. The filmmakers do a highly effective and efficient job of setting up the premise of the film without actually showing anything that happened pre-apocalypse. Finch might seem to be able to come up with mind-blowing technical achievements on the fly, but in the context of the film, there’s no issue with just rolling with his profound abilities.
The story becomes so absorbing that there are times you forget about the absurdity of it, thinking you’re just watching two buddies traveling around the country with their dog. Jeff is a lot of things rolled into one, including savior, comic relief, and friend. Using motion capture to create the character, the filmmakers are able to show that Jeff is made up of a bunch of scavenged parts, but also somehow more human than many flesh-and-blood people.
The film does hit a few speed bumps along the way, most notably a middle section where the filmmakers bring up the prospect of other people in the world, only to discard the idea just as quickly. There are some other elements that may not hold up to larger scrutiny, as well, but the pacing of the film is such that any nitpicks are fast forgotten.
Although he has more to play with than in Cast Away, Hanks once again proves that few actors are capable of being as compelling by themselves as he is. He’s constantly interacting with other entities, whether it’s Goodyear or Jeff, throughout the film, but he never makes you forget that the success or failure of Finch’s mission rests almost entirely on his shoulders. That burden shows up in big and small ways in his performance, one that yet again makes the case for him as constantly award-worthy.
No matter what kind of role he’s given, Hanks seems to find a way to make both his character and the film as a whole captivating, something that definitely applies to Finch. It challenges the idea of what it means to be human and underscores the meaning of humanity at the same time.
Finch debuts on Apple TV+ on November 5.