Review: ‘Finch,’ starring Tom Hanks

November 3, 2021

by Carla Hay

Tom Hanks with the characters of Goodyear and Jeff in “Finch” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

“Finch”

Directed by Miguel Sapochnik

Culture Representation: Taking place in a post-apocalyptic United States, the sci-fi drama film “Finch” features an all-white cast of characters representing survivors of an apocalypse.

Culture Clash: A robotics engineer named Finch Weinberg, who has been living by himself during the post-apocalypse, builds a human-like robot to help him and his dog survive, but the robot sometimes has trouble learning how to do things the way that Finch wants.

Culture Audience: “Finch” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Tom Hanks and people who are interested in well-acted road trip movies that take place after an apocalypse.

Tom Hanks with the character of Dewey in “Finch” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

How many movies have there been about a person who’s surviving alone after an apocalypse or other disaster? There are too many of these movies for most people to recite from memory. “Finch” aims and usually succeeds at being a drama that stands out from most other films with the same concept. The acting in “Finch” is well above-average for most post-apocalyptic movies. However, the acting is the best asset for “Finch,” whose screenplay and direction can at times can be plodding and trite.

For “Finch” star Tom Hanks, it’s not the first time that he’s done a movie where he has depicted an isolated disaster survivor. He got an Oscar nomination for the 2000 drama “Cast Away,” in which he portrayed a plane crash survivor stranded by himself on a remote island in the South Pacific. There won’t be any major award nominations for “Finch,” not because it’s a bad film—in fact, it’s a fairly good film, with Hanks turning in yet another believable and heartfelt performance.

However, “Finch” (directed by Miguel Sapochnik and written by Craig Luck and Ivor Powell) breaks no new ground in filmmaking and is entirely predictable. It hits all the expected beats and story arcs that have been in other similar post-apocalyptic movies. There are absolutely no subtle moments or surprises in “Finch,” but the movie is still very entertaining, mostly due to Hanks’ engaging performance.

“Finch” has only one human character speaking in the entire film. His name is Finch Weinberg (played by Hanks), who has been living an isolated existence in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, for an untold number of years after an apocalypse destroyed the world’s environment. As Finch explains at one point in the movie, a massive solar flare hit Earth, and “completely fried the ozone.” This disaster also knocked out all of Earth’s electricity. Batteries, gas, fire or solar energy are now the main ways to operate anything mechanical that needs a source to operate that is not automatically built into the mechanism.

The daytime temperature in this post-apocalyptic world is now too hot (an average of 150 degrees Fahrenheit per day) for a human being to survive outdoors during the day without protective gear, because of the “holes” in the ozone layer. In addition, the apocalypse has left Earth covered in dust and looking mostly like a desolate desert. Giant dust clouds are a very real threat. Even though there are extremely hot temperatures during the day, it’s safer for humans to move about during the day, because the nighttime brings out people who can and will commit deadly crimes in order to steal food, water and resources from other people.

Early on in the movie, Finch reads a book titled “The Effects of Exposure to Ionizing Radiation.” And when he gets a nosebleed and later starts coughing up blood, you know exactly where this movie is going to go. About halfway through the movie, Finch even says out loud what he knows is happening to him, in case it wasn’t obvious enough. No subtlety at all.

Finch spends his days traveling in a sanitation truck. While wearing an astronaut-styled hazmat suit, he goes from building to building to look for food and for other survivors. When he finds a building that’s completely abandoned, he uses red spray paint and sprays a general prohibition sign/symbol (a circle with a slanted slash through it) on the front of the building, to indicate that the building was inspected and no one was found inside. During these excursions. Finch brings with him a four-wheeled robot that he created named Dewey, which is meant to act like a dog that looks like a moving cart.

Dewey does not speak, but Finch has designed a human-like robot that does speak. Back in his bunker, where Finch lives with a male terrier mix dog named Goodyear, Finch uploads computer data to the human-like robot and tests this robot. He is elated to find out that the robot works. The robot, which has the skeleton body of a man who’s about 6 feet tall, has superhuman strength and has the ability to process information like a computer. Finch exclaims triumphantly about his robot invention: “One small step for man! One giant leap for Finch Weinberg!”

Most importantly to Finch, the robot can have conversations and can mostly understand the commands that Finch gives to the robot. Caleb Landry Jones is the voice of the robot, which has an accent that sounds like a combination of Russian and American. There are some cardinal rules that the robot has been programmed to always follow: A robot cannot harm a human. A robot, through inaction, cannot allow a human to be killed. And the most important command that Finch has taught this robot is to always take care of Finch’s dog Goodyear, no matter what happens. The robot quickly learns to move like a human.

Later in the movie, the robot chooses its own name: Jeff. Because “Finch” is a essentially a road trip movie, the reason why Finch and his companions have to be on the move is shown early on in the story. One night, Finch sees from a distance that a collection of storm clouds seem to be headed in the direction of his shelter. Jeff calculates that the storms will intersect over the shelter within 24 hours and will last about 40 days. In other words, it’s unlikely that any living being caught in the storm will survive.

Finch hastily evacuates with Goodyear, Jeff and Dewey in his RV camper. He has a collection of postcards of famous bridges, such as London Bridge, the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge postcard has the most sentimentality to Finch. He tells Jeff that his uncle sent him this postcard, and that their road trip will be to San Francisco, with a vague hope that maybe Finch might be able to find some relatives there.

The movie implies that Finch is a never-married bachelor with no children. He mentions later in the movie that he was brought up by a single mother, who is now deceased. Because Finch does not mention having any siblings, it’s also implied that Finch is an only child.

During conversations that Finch has with Jeff during this road trip, it’s revealed that before the apocalypse, Finch was a loner at work and in his personal life. Finch used to work at a company called Tri-Alpha Engineering, which is where he was when the apocalypse happened. Finch tells Jeff an anecdote about what life was like for him on the job.

In this anecdote, Finch says that he was able to solve a work problem on his own, even though his co-workers said it was impossible. When a head honcho at the company stopped by for a visit, he singled out Finch for praise in finding this solution. However, Finch knew that because of office politics, he had to do the polite thing and say that he couldn’t have done this accomplishment without the rest of the team.

The supervisor seemed to know that Finch was lying, but appreciated Finch being aware that things go smoother on a team when people don’t feel undervalued by a co-worker who outshines them and where co-workers trust one another. This story demonstrates that Finch was a co-worker who liked to think and work independently, but he was also aware that working on a team meant that he needed social skills. Finch tells Jeff that his work experience taught him this lesson: “I just work better by myself.”

And it’s why Finch often loses patience with Jeff when the robot makes mistakes that the robot wasn’t necessarily programmed to understand in the first place. Expect to see several scenes where Finch and Jeff develop a father/son type of relationship, as Jeff learns more about life and how to survive this apocalypse. When Finch scolds Jeff for doing something wrong, it sounds exactly like how a parent would scold a child.

After a while, Finch’s impatience becomes repetitive and actually makes Finch look like the one who’s being immature and illogical. After all, if Jeff makes any mistakes, it’s really because Finch failed to give proper instructions or didn’t program the robot well enough to prevent these mistakes. No one said Finch had to be perfect, because no one is.

However, the movie tends to veer a little bit on the shallow side when it makes it look like Finch’s biggest flaw is that he gets impatient with Jeff. If the movie had more of a backstory for Finch, it would’ve made this character more well-rounded. There are only a few hints of what Finch’s life was like before the apocalypse, based on what he mentions. However, enough information is given about Finch to assume that he’s been coping with having an isolated life better than most people would cope because he was already a loner before the apocalypse happened.

“Finch” skimps on other details. The movie ignores issues of indoor plumbing, how to get fresh water, and how it all relates to sanitation and grooming. There’s plenty of emphasis on Finch getting food for himself and Goodyear, but there’s no depiction of getting water, even though water is more important than food for a human being’s survival, especially in an extremely hot environment. The movie never mentions or shows if Finch bathes or showers, although viewers can probably speculate that he keeps bottled water somewhere for any sanitation and grooming.

Of course, “Finch” has some moments that are meant to be suspenseful, which usually has to do with the danger of being seen by other people who are up to no good, or if there’s another hazard that could be life-threatening. One of the most emotionally poignant moments is when Finch tells Jeff a harrowing story of a horrible crime that he witnessed. And there are a few other tearjerking moments that happen right when you expect them to happen.

Because the landscape is covered in dust and because this movie is about a road trip in this depressing-looking world, “Finch” doesn’t have dazzling cinematography, but the camera work gets the job done in the right places. The movie’s visual effects, particularly with Jeff and any disastrous weather, are believable but not particularly outstanding. Jones’ voice as the robot Jeff might be annoying to some viewers. It’s a voice that people will either like/tolerate or absolutely loathe.

Goodyear is the expected adorable and loyal movie dog, filmed with the type of human-like facial expressions and canine noises to indicate that he mostly understands what’s going on. Predictably, Goodyear is suspicious of Jeff at first. Jeff is a new member of this “family,” and the movie makes a point of showing how this new family dynamic affects Goodyear.

Some scientific-minded people might roll their eyes in disbelief at how robot Jeff seems to develop emotions during the course of the story, just like human beings can develop emotional maturity from childhood to adulthood. This movie takes place in an unnamed year in the future, so viewers have to be open to the possibility that artificial intelligence could advance in the future where computer-generated robots can mimic emotional maturity over time. Ultimately, “Finch” is a science-fiction drama that is meant to be more about emotions than the nitty-gritty details of scientific technology. In other words, there’s really no point in nitpicking a fictional movie’s science that’s supposed to exist in an unknown future.

One of the movie’s best scenes is when Finch admits to Jeff that his biggest fear is the fear of the unknown. There’s another scene in the movie where Finch tells Jeff that what made the apocalypse worse wasn’t the natural disaster but how human beings turned on each other when food and other resources became scarce. “Hunger turned men into murderers,” says Finch. “But me, it made me a coward.”

Actually, Finch shows a lot of courage in this story by retaining his humanity and overall compassion. “Finch” effectively tells through one man’s story how disasters can bring out the worst in people, but can also bring out the best in people, especially when people are forced to confront the fragility of life. Finch’s journey might be easy to predict, but it will have some impact on viewers who believe that hope does not have to be sacrificed when surviving a disaster.

Apple TV+ will premiere “Finch” on November 5, 2021.