Movie review: Finch

(image courtesy IMP awards)

You know those films that slowly but surely, and in the most authentic, intimately human of ways grab hold of your heart, bring it close and then pull it out of your heart until you’re an aching, weeping mess?

Finch is one of those films.

Heart-rendingly, beautifully, wonderfully so, and it does this without an ounce of overt crass emotional manipulation, relying instead on subtlely-realised but powerfully delivered characterisation, an emphasis on the end of the world aloneness of its two lead characters and understanding of the fragility of life and the life-changing relationships that go hand in hand with it.

Rather fittingly for a year blighted by an ongoing pandemic, although the film was conceived and film long before COVID did its normality busting thing, Finch is set in a near future where a solar flare has laid waste to a planet already staggering under the weight of humanity’s adverse impact, and turned much of it into dry, sandy, lifeless desert.

So devastating has its impact been that food is scarce to non-existent, violent appropriation is the preferred means of exchange and the sun can quite literally burn you to death in seconds, the ozone layer now resembling a Swiss cheese canopy of UV radiating-permitting holes.

We are, to all intents and purposes toast but some good people are hanging on, among them Finch (Tom Hanks), a robotics engineer who, hold up in the subterranean surrounds of his old workplace, and well-skilled in foraging for food and tech essentials in his old home city of St. Louis, Missouri, is steadily working to create a new robot companion in the form of a series of diodes and downloads and fast-learning A. I. who eventually comes to be known as Jeff (motion-captured and voiced by Caleb Landry Jones).

It is the central relationship between Finch and Jeff that anchors a post-apocalyptic tale that could have easily slipped into cutesy schmaltz but instead remains steadfastly on the side of real emotional weightiness.

Much of that substantial impact on the heart and soul comes from fine performances from both Hanks and Landry Jones who forge a profoundly affecting connection following Jeff’s hurried ascent to full consciousness when a massive incoming superstorm of imperilling duration forces Finch to flee west to San Francisco where some sort of safety lies.

Jeff has been lovingly and carefully created to take care of Finch’s adorable dog, Goodyear, the robotic engineer’s only friend and companion – he admits to Jeff on their do-or-die road trip that he is a loner and never played well with others and that Goodyear is the most important thing in the world to him – but his is a manic rush to adulthood, one which takes place on the road where human and climatic dangers aplenty lie in wait.

While we are witness to some of these threats, and there are moments in the film where your heart is pounding with the adrenaline rush of it all, much of Finch sits in a far more thoughtful, quieter place where it is conversation, learning and emotional connection that informs the narrative.

It is, in many ways, a coming of ages of stories for Jeff who goes from not understanding how to walk and talk one day to driving the customised and armoured RV Finch has prepped when Finch, for reasons that become painfully and sadly clear, no longer can do so.

Jeff goes from baby to child to teenager and beyond in rapid time but only because of the humanity shown to him by Finch who, good though he is, is as fallible and flawed as anyone else.

You can thank Hanks for the roundedness and likability of Finch who is both deeply flawed and tenaciously, full of fury and despair, hope and determination, all given authentic expression by an actor who effortlessly embodies both charm and brokenness, many times in the same charged scene.

For all its post apocalyptic bleakness, what makes Finch such a beautifully wrenching film to watch is the fact that even at the end of the world, when you could argue human connectivity has all but evaporated with the water, one of the most moving of relationships comes to the fore.

Everything rests of Jeff learning and growing up and Finch being there to help him do that and for it to happen, and Goodyear to be okay in the long run, the two, created and creator have to form an inviolable bond.

That they do, and in a way that feels hard-earned and believable in what feels like a preposterous but scarily possible scenario, forms the beating, deeply affecting heart of Finch.

Yes, this is a lot to give rise to lostness, pain and despair, and we see it firsthand on a number of occasions from cataclysmic weather events to the eerie end times hellishness of civilisation stripped bare and the world scoured until it is dust and broken buildings, but Finch celebrates the enduring power of humanity, which is just as vitally alive in Jeff as it is in the movie’s titular character.

If you are looking for violent apocalyptic action, Finch is not the film for you.

The threats are evident and manifest, and punctuate the narrative to heart-stopping effect, but they are not the central story here; rather, what we have is a celebration of the fact that humanity can endure, and make no mistake Jeff ends up every bit as human as Finch in the end, capable of empathy, empathetic care and understanding, even at the end of the world even as if you could be forgiven for believing it to be as dead as the world in which it is increasingly scant.

The real gift of Finch is that, for all its narrative propensity to do so – we have a cute AI-driven robot, expressive dog, funny, bleeping robot in Dewey and a curmudgeonly charmer in Finch Weinberg to give him full name (there’s a nice moment where he gets dressed as a near-miss run for supplies and he attaches his old corporate name tag) – it avoids mawkishness and crass sentimenality.

The emotions on display here are grounded and real, borne of primal adversity and all-encompassing loss that is not surrendered to, though Finch, for understandable reasons, comes close to doing so on a couple of occasions, but rather overcome in ways that suggest as much fragility as strength, all riding on the powerful bond between man and his far-more-than-machine who come to mean the world to each other and who save it for each other in ways that will seize your heart for the duration and well beyond.

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