Finch review: This time Tom Hanks' castaway pal is a winning CG robot
Where's Wall-E? An impressive robot joins Hanks for a relatively gentle end-of-the-world on Apple TV Plus now.
Richard TrenholmFormer Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Finch takes us to the end of the world... again. But this familiar trek across the postapocalypse on Apple TV Plus has two unique selling points: Tom Hanks and
Originally titled BIOS, Finch was meant to come out in late 2020. Bought up by
and retitled to a less ambiguously pronounced name, Finch is streaming on Apple TV Plus now.
The film opens with a familiar setup. The world has ended and an apparently lone survivor (the titular Finch, played by Hanks) loots a store, tags it with a spray can and heads back to his base where we see the hardscrabble life he's carved for himself. It's something you've seen before in every postapocalypse drama from I Am legend to A Quiet Place to Wall-E.
The film takes on something of its own texture when Hanks jumps into a giant dump truck and storms down the street crunching cars, although that gleefully muscular tone doesn't last. Soft-voiced, shambling and gray-whiskered, Hanks is in Cast Away mode as a mild engineer keeping himself busy with a library of books in a secure silo.
Helmed by Emmy-winning Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik, Finch is a visual treat thanks to a combination of sweeping vistas and clever CGI effects. But it's also a pretty intimate tale that would feel more at home on the streaming screen even if pandemic disruption hadn't pushed it out of a prospective theater release.
When a super-storm threatens Finch's modest underground life, however, the film fires up its second selling point. Comparisons with Wall-E don't just come from its setting in the blasted landscape of a ruined Earth. No, Finch also has cute droids Hanks builds to help navigate life in this solar-flare-ravaged world. These creations culminate in a human-shaped bot named Jeff, designed to join Hanks on a last-ditch road trip. Imagine if Wilson the volleyball had CG legs.
The spindly, jerky robot has an orange dome for a face but bags of personality. An impressive digital creation, Jeff is brought to life in a motion capture performance by Caleb Landry Jones, an actor best known for playing oddball characters in films such as Get Out and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. Jones' performance and the magic of the visual effects team invests Jeff with a charmingly goofy disposition, making an engaging slapstick sidekick for Hanks doing his grumpy but avuncular bit. Jeff is up there with other personality-infused robots in similar films like
gripping thriller I Am Mother or melancholy '70s sci-fi classic Silent Running (referenced here in the name of one of Hanks' robots).
With a dog and a childlike robot piling into a 1984 Fleetwood RV Southwind recreational vehicle, the film hits the road with a freewheelin' almost indie-comedy-drama sensibility. There's an inherent danger in the situation, but the film downplays the menace. The hostile environment is reminiscent of The Martian but with no zombies or mutant biker gangs in pursuit, Finch often feels more like Little Miss Sunshine meets Short Circuit.
It also begins with Hanks crooning American Pie and actually drops Road to Nowhere by Talking Heads when the characters are, wait for it, on the road. At its worst, Finch heads into cloyingly sentimental territory with unfocused emotional reveals and vague life lessons. Still, it's a charming diversion even if it journeys across pretty familiar territory. Tom Hanks and robots, you can't go wrong.
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