Finch Synopsis: In a world decimated by harsh environmental conditions and human cruelty, scientist William Finch (Tom Hanks) maneuvers the desolate landscape with his loyal dog. As Finch grows concerned with his declining condition, he builds and trains Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones), a sentient robot who undertakes a journey on what it means to be alive.
Dystopian post-apocalyptic narratives are a dime a dozen, with filmmakers often sinking these tales in the dredges of overwhelming misery. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these films are successful in their bleak approach (Children of Men and It Comes At Night extract human nuances out of their dreary landscapes). That said, several examples soak in sorrow without defining genuine purpose along the way (I’m looking at you, Bird Box).
The latest sci-fi dystopian tale, the former Universal-owned, now Apple+ streamer Finch, offers a refreshing change of pace. While this plucky adventure isn’t without cheesy contrivances, director Miguel Sapochnik crafts an amiable and surprisingly moving feature out of his familiar narrative playbook.
Sapochnik has spent the last decade as a TV craftsman (Games of Thrones and House) after his intriguing yet unfulfilling sci-fi debut Repo Men. In his big-screen return, Sapochnik displays assured touch in the film’s visual and narrative composition. He and Cinematographer Jo Willems skillfully immerse audiences in a barren landscape destitute of hope and humanity, while their adept visual effects team imbue textures into the landscape with an inspired blend of practical and CGI effects. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see sentient robots crafted from rustic practical designs, with their clunky and imperfect look making them easier to humanize compared to ever-popular CGI artifice.
To contrast the decaying environment, Sapochnik and screenwriters Ivor Powell and Craig Luck highlight a silver lining of hope at the end of the tunnel. Finch is as open-hearted as it gets for big-budget blockbusters, delving intimately into Finch’s internal struggles with his unfulfilled life and Jeff’s slow integration into the highs and lows of humanity. Certain scenes reek of maudlin tropes, but the favoring of gentle character beats over explosive setpieces lays a solid groundwork. Finch finds its groove when it’s most vulnerable, exploring the intimate connection between its hermit protagonist and his naive robotic creation. Despite their obvious differences, the two serve as kindred spirits who teach one another about life’s gentle pleasures.
Alongside a lovable dog, Finch’s narrative is carried forward by two towering performances. Tom Hanks is in movie star form as scientist William Finch, exhibiting his remarkable ability to humanize even the biggest of curmudgeons. He handles every emotional beat with raw authenticity, extracting an assured balance between broad emotional responses and subdued moments of reflection. Caleb Landry Jones continues his rise as one of the industry’s best character actors as the robotic Jeff. Voice-over performances of this nature require demanding levels of expressiveness. Landry Jones provides that energy in short order, displaying a youthful buoyancy that brings the sentient figure to life.
Finch doesn’t reinvent the wheel with its well-trudged narrative roadmap, but the well-tuned team behind this feature knows what they want to accomplish within that framework. Finch works as a lovable science fiction throwback that imbues much-needed vulnerability into blockbuster’s big-screen spectacle.