Dir: Miguel Sapochnik. Starring: Tom Hanks, Caleb Landry Jones. 115 minutes
Not even Tom Hanks’s signature kindliness can conceal the fact that we’ve seen a lot of Finch before. The ransacked supermarkets, the lawless scavengers, the roads and cityscapes coated in golden sand – it imagines a post-apocalyptic hellscape much like every other post-apocalyptic hellscape Hollywood has dreamt up in recent years.
The sci-fi drama, which stars Hanks, a dog and a robot, is set in an America of the not-so-distant future, in which much of civilisation has been wiped out by an enormous gamma flare that destroyed the ozone layer. There are allusions to the fatal arrogance of those who could have prevented it but didn’t, the rank savagery that emerged in its wake, and the slightly rudderless will to endure its worst effects. Sound familiar? It doesn’t help that Finch feels so visually and narratively indebted to everything from WALL-E and Moon to Hanks’s very own Cast Away – albeit with a talkative cyborg named Jeff rather than a volleyball with a face scribbled on it.
Jeff (voiced and played in a motion-capture body suit by Caleb Landry Jones) is a custom-built friend for Hanks’s Finch, a lonely tech boffin on the precipice of death. Finch needs someone to look after his dog once he dies, so he builds Jeff from scratch, gradually mentoring him from a collection of bolts, panels and an artificial voice that sounds uncannily like Borat’s. He is as much of an emotive, compassionate human as an android can be.
Buried beneath the dystopian visuals – though hinted at by the presence of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment on the credits – is the fact that Finch is more of a traditional weepie than it first seems. This is the story of a found family existing at the end of the world, and the paternal role Finch begins to assume as Jeff develops degrees of sentience. It’s fitfully moving – a monologue in which Finch recalls witnessing the worst of human behaviour and doing nothing about it is powerful – but there’s often a sense of a darker, less gentle film aching to get out from beneath the sop.
Director Miguel Sapochnik has confirmed in interviews that Finch, which was filmed in 2019, underwent a bit of surgical editing once the pandemic arrived in the hopes of making it all a bit more upbeat. That might explain why one-time cast members Samira Wiley, Skeet Ulrich and Laura Harrier are nowhere to be found. It results in a film that is technically impressive but dramatically meandering.
And then there’s Hanks, reliably tender and lowering the pitch of his voice until it’s a timid little drawl. But he’s stuck in the kind of resolutely OK, middle-of-the-road star vehicle that’s worryingly become his forte. Aside from Marielle Heller’s ambitious Fred Rogers movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – which toyed with Hanks’s innate goodness in mysterious, rewarding ways – he has a tendency of late to appear in things that tumble out the memory as soon as they’re over. Finch, despite its best efforts to leave an impression, is more of the same.