We are facing an uncertain future, that much is obvious in the news following a fervent, crucial climate summit this week. A planet of apocalyptic landscapes could suddenly be less of a surprising stigma relegated to mere science fiction if action can’t start with a compromise. Connecting the reality with the loosening thread of fiction wasn’t far from my mind as Miguel Sapochnik’s Finch slowly played out. A tale surrounded by real-world consequences but is just as brave to embrace the joy of the world while it’s still revolving around.
Time does appear to be running out, in at least one variable. For loner scientist Finch Weinberg (Tom Hanks), the clock is riding his back. One of the few survivors in a massive solar event bent on eradicating all known life, the structural engineer had sustained his existence well in the barren landscape of St. Louis. By day, he’s a scrounger, searching for any remaining morsels of canned food alongside scruffy dog Goodyear and field bot Dewey. By night, in his underground lab, he’s working to transfer his wealth of knowledge into the untapped resource of an A.I. system, self-named Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones).
Years of radiation exposure in a realm whose ozone layer is riddled with holes have decreased his life expectancy. That, and the consistent threat of alarmingly dangerous weather. In a total snap decision caused by a looming storm, Finch and his menagerie of misfits make tracks in an RV for San Francisco, treating their hijinks like a road trip. Along their path thru dusty highways and barren wastelands, Jeff does learn multiple lessons to convincingly act human, surviving to the fullest. And evolving not quite to supercomputer status, but more to a loyal friend, an idea Finch could never grasp, even with a pet canine to accompany his pursuits. Some qualities of an ego complex abound, but Hanks carries some restraint to avoid an overage of bullishness.
Sapochnik, working off a passionate script by filmmaking vets Ivor Powell and Craig Luck, sees no defect with this humanistic tale, shared between both flesh and machinery. For all the knowledge and training Finch instills in his creation, their unity is beyond palpable. Hanks once more sees the challenge of portraying a simple, average guy, facing his mortality head-on. Not unlike the situation he faced in Cast Away (oddly fitting Robert Zemeckis plays a role here as producer) where solitude meant a question of sanity. As Finch’s health declines in similar isolation, a question of legacy emerges. What lasting impact can he leave? Jeff is easily that solution, his Pinocchio, his Thorleif (considering the scientist makes references to Viking blood). Hanks is pure gold on screen in this endeavor, ready for the next situation with a quick warning.
Meanwhile, the bot is as quick to adapt to human protocol, accepting four key directives, mainly not to harm his engineer, and protect Goodyear upon the engineer’s passing. Jones’s portrayal was a little sluggish to accept initially, though as the story proceeded, a genuine comfort grew in his voice to cut through his owner’s cynicism. Amid the ambiance surrounding this group at the slow-burning end of the world (any long-term exposure to sunlight is immediately harmful), Jeff’s free spirit attitude grows with time, maturing as they drive, with no clear villain chasing them. Unless one counts the reflexiveness of trust and initiative. Something Finch is willing to instruct despite his lack thereof toward other humans, as flashbacks assure.
The bond he forges with Jeff, to the point of achieving a father/son dynamic, celebrates that desire toward lifelong learning, mellowing out his fears. Not even an apocalyptic atmosphere could weigh them down. It may be a threat, but health issues aside, it’s not their greatest concern as it is merely longevity. And Sapochnik (Repo Men) is more than eager to affirm this story’s staying power. One captured vividly on camera in the blank canvasses of New Mexico thru the lens of DoP Jo Willems (Red Sparrow). That fear for the future plagues our lead as effectively as any one of us when facing a frightening hurdle. Perhaps less when adjusting the parameters for a human-like android seeking the consciousness of human contradictions. Both must help each other to fight fear with truth, and over time their defenses settle, replaced by mindful awareness.
Despite using the distant future like a cautionary tale setting, Finch couldn’t be further from its unique form of truth. The world was never easy on the guy, nor could he ever be easy on himself or others. Pairing up with a like-minded, feeling, thinking AI is just enough to melt his heart, pulling Hanks back to a tender, existential playing field to deliver one of his finest works in recent memory. It’s enough of a home run for the legend, for Jones, and even for the talented canine portraying Goodyear, whose presence proved alluring (dog lovers be pleased). On this road trip, a journey for their very lives, emotional baggage is quickly replaced with thoughtful amends, approaching a not-so-distant future with welcome optimism and peace.
Going so blindly into Finch, at no time would I have anticipated the link between man and machine weave so closely with a chipper, faithful demeanor. To imagine any sort of future without something so tight-knit, knowing what still awaits us on the regular is now impossible. That reason made Finch a favorite, and hopefully, I won’t be alone. (A- 4/5 Horns Up!)
Finch is currently streaming on Apple TV+; rated PG-13 for brief violent images; 115 minutes.