From Blade Runner to The Matrix, many great works of science fiction have fretted about the moment when robots replace us. These films unlock ancient anxieties about technology and its power over the humans who created it. Finch is the rare sci-fi story that rejects that anxiety and revels in our replacement. It’s a simple story of a man, his dog, and his robot. Tom Hanks plays the title character, a robotics expert who has survived a climate-influenced apocalypse with his pup, Goodyear (yes, there’s a story behind the name). They live in peace, but their time is limited; Finch is slowly dying from radiation poisoning. So he does what any postapocalyptic doggie daddy would do: He builds a robot whose sole purpose is caring for Goodyear in his absence.
Fans of Hanks’ earlier canine-centric work Turner & Hooch might be disappointed, as the relationship here between man and dog here is largely symbolic. Goodyear, a terrier mix, is a very good boy. He plays fetch, gets belly rubs, and cocks his head at just the right moments, but he mostly exists as an emblem of Finch’s lingering humanity. Watching Hanks snuggle a dog is a genuine American pleasure that cannot be dismissed, but the film is ultimately more concerned with the relationship between Finch and Jeff, the redheaded robot voiced by Caleb Landry Jones, and to be fair, there’s more to work with there. Jeff must learn to become human. The dog stays a dog.
When a severe storm forces the unorthodox trio to flee their bunker and take to the highway, Finch veers from its sci-fi roots and plants a foot in a few different genres. It’s a bona fide road movie, with the bulk of the story happening inside Finch’s solar-powered RV. With the wide open skies and sparsely populated desert towns, it also feels like a Western, albeit one that reflects the breakdown of a future civilization rather than the ascent of a past one. The lack of ancillary human characters may have been a financial decision rather than a narrative one (Finch often feels like it is squeezing every penny out of its budget), but there is an undeniable mythic power in its images of desolate towns of the American West.
Still, these winning elements don’t always jibe. Finch’s efforts to teach robot Jeff how to walk, talk, and care like a human being feel rote, and the “comically mismatched pair who need each other” routine has been done better elsewhere (including in Turner & Hooch). Every beat is predictable, but the lead actors forge a chemistry that makes the stale plot points feel just fresh enough. Hanks dips into his past, straddling the line between his more stoic performances and his purely comic ones, while his formidable presence holds the film’s disparate tones together.
It also allows room for Jeff, the film’s most interesting character, to flourish. He’s a literally well-constructed character, exuding a tactility that’s rare for cinematic androids. When he moves through the world, you feel his weight, and Jones modulates his voice with insight and nuance. With his stilted speech, he starts out sounding a bit like a digitized Borat, but the more he talks, the more humanity his voice exudes.
It’s a perfectly serviceable film that would have still benefited from a firmer hand. With its blend of sentimentality and trauma, Finch is aiming for the sweet spot created by frequent Hanks collaborator Steven Spielberg, and there are even some late-breaking daddy issues to complete the picture. But veteran TV director Miguel Sapochnik, who directed several episodes of Game of Thrones, doesn’t quite have the craft (or perhaps the budget) to completely tie it all together. Its big moments resonate, but it achieves little cumulative power beyond the obvious. It’s not too challenging to make an audience cry when you’ve got a dying man, a dog, and a charming robot to work with. Whether the film earned those tears is another story altogether.
Finch is available to stream on AppleTV+ starting Nov. 5.