Apple TV+'s Tom Hanks Movie 'Finch' Is a Post-Apocalyptic Tearjerker
This creaky Amblin production looks and feels like a lot of science-fiction classics, but it eventually finds its own path.
At multiple points in its runtime, Finch, a post-apocalyptic fable starring Tom Hanks as a man wandering a burnt-out wasteland, overplays its dust-covered hand. When you already have Hanks, the closest thing American cinema has to a mythic embodiment of old-fashioned 20th century versions of values like decency and kindness and care, in your lead role, do you need to also introduce the character singing "American Pie" to himself as he goes about his work? The combination of a star like Hanks, who summons a whole range of potent ideas by merely showing up, and such an overplayed classic rock radio staple, part of the fabric of pop culture to such an extent that it can sound like musical wallpaper, feels like overkill. You want to shake the screen and say, "We get it!"
Luckily, Finch, which debuts on Apple TV+ today after getting rerouted from a COVID-delayed conventional theatrical release, occasionally strays from that level of obviousness. As Finch Weinberg, a mildly cranky engineer, Hanks has been presented with the type of role that fits his persona like a snug sun-deflecting jumpsuit. Before leaving his home in St. Louis because of a massive storm, he builds a vaguely Chappie-esque robot (voiced by Caleb Landry Jones in an almost Borat-ian register) to protect his dog and provide assistance on the road. Again, Hanks plus dog plus robot might feel too cute for its own good, but director Miguel Sapochnik, a frequent helmer of the massive battle episodes of Game of Thrones, finds joyful and mournful notes to play while still hitting all the familiar beats.
It takes some work for him to find those moments. The script by Craig Luck and Ivor Powell often feels like it's been assembled from scrap parts of other better, thornier movies: the moving Hanks solo act airlifted from Cast Away; the desert imagery plucked off the roads of Mad Max; the touches of junkyard whimsy siphoned from Wall-E; and even the canine-and-human against the world dynamic of 1975's A Boy and His Dog, a far stranger work than what we have here. Instead of wowing you with an original vision of the end times, Finch charms you with its patient approach to coloring inside the lines.
In recent years, Hanks has settled into a self-reflective zone as an actor, selecting roles that almost feel like meta-commentary on his own place in the popular imagination as "America's Dad." (If you squint, there are comparisons to be made between Finch and Clint Eastwood's Western swan song Cry Macho.) Recent Hanks vehicles like The Post, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Greyhound, which Hanks penned the script for, and News of the World were all backward-looking period pieces that viewed the tensions of the present through the lens of the past, and though Finch strikes out toward the unknown future, it retains a nostalgic glow about it, one that feels rooted in the era of filmmaking when Hanks first rose to prominence in the '80s and '90s.
Like Eastwood, Hanks has a brilliant grasp of his gifts as a performer, able to wield his charisma like a mechanic using a soldering iron. When Finch tells a harrowing story about the early days of societal collapse, Sapochnik keeps his camera pulled in tight on Hanks's face, which registers each subtle shift in the emotional tenor of the tale he's telling. Even surrounded by CG dust storms and motion-captured robots conjured from ones-and-zeroes, his weary eyes, wrinkled forehead, and trembling mouth remain the greatest special effect on display. Even if the material dips into the Spielbergian uncanny valley—perhaps inevitable because Spielberg's company Amblin produced the movie and Hanks's frequent collaborator Robert Zemeckis serves as a producer here—Hanks lends the film enough raw humanity to make the trip worthwhile. Up against a dog and a robot, he still emerges as the most poignant, lovable figure of the apocalypse.