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Finch (2021)::rating::3.5::rating::3.5

As we drift through the pandemic doldrums, one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: Covid-19 has permanently altered us as a movie audience. When we see Finch Weinberg (Tom Hanks) ambling through the eerie stillness of a post-apocalyptic world, it hits differently now. His uneasy blend of loneliness, anxiety, and plucky resourcefulness feel strangely suited to a world of lockdowns, variants, surges, and deep mistrust. Critics may bag on Finch for treading a path already trodden by better movies, and they’re not completely wrong: Nothing about any of this will seem new. We’re just seeing it with new eyes.

Finch whisks us to the dreaded near-future, where the Earth has become a barren, boiling, irradiated ball of desert and saltwater. It seems a solar flare whacked our upper atmosphere, stripped away the ozone layer, and rendered the planet damn near uninhabitable. What few humans remain are reduced to desperate scavengers who must travel by night and loot what little supplies they can find.

This abject misery is where we first meet Finch. Much like Jessie Eisenberg’s protagonist in Zombieland, Finch has lived long to create a rulebook for the howling wasteland. Armed with a few bits of robotic technology and a canny scientific mind, Finch scours during the day, and avoids other humans at all costs. It’s a painful lesson, but no one can be trusted.

Well, almost no one: Finch travels with a loyal, adorable mutt named Goodyear, and a diminutive robot-assistant called Dewey. Together, they form a motley little family that finds a way to thrive on the edge of survival. Of course, there’s just one small catch: The radiation that’s ravaging the Earth is slowing killing Finch, too.

Faced with the unbearable thought of leaving Goodyear alone, Finch decides to build him a companion: Jeff (voice of Caleb Landry Jones) has a trove of trivial information, the personality of a sensitive preteen, and a body that falls somewhere between WALL-E and an unfinished Star Wars protocol droid. Finch imbues his protege with an unfaltering curiosity and desire to please. Unfortunately, just as Jeff is beginning to learn how to walk and talk, Finch learns a radioactive storm is bearing down on them. He loads his progeny into a RV and barrels toward San Francisco. Jeff will just have to acquire his mechanical humanity on the fly.

Thus begins an extended road movie/buddy comedy, wherein Finch and Jeff embark on a series of shenanigans. The script essentially riffs on the same joke: Finch is a curmudgeonly sitcom dad, and Jeff is a well-meaning child with a destructively short attention span. Some of this schtick lands; some of it doesn’t. A lot of your appreciation for Finch will depend on your tolerance for when it goes all cute.

Actually, the movie is at its finest whenever it opts for quiet dramatic beats. This means that Tom Hanks gets to, you know, act. Finch slowly opens up to his makeshift son, and learns to process not just his impending mortality, but also the sobering notion that he’s among the last of an endangered species. Humanity is a flickering light, a fact that infuses Finch with a pronounced sense of melancholy.

In another plus, director Miguel Sapochnik (who helmed some of the brawniest episodes of Game of Thrones) perfectly captures the beautiful emptiness of a microwaved Earth. Over the course of the film, Finch and company traverse shimmering salt flats, bald mountains, and tattered cityscapes. Sapochnik smartly hides all the CGI in plain sight, making Finch’s road to nowhere feel completely believable. That goes ditto for Jeff, who flawlessly sports all the tics of a gangly, insecure kid. This blends seamlessly with Jones’ voice work, which adds a layer of vulnerable decency to the character.

Does all this feel like a million other movies? Sure. Savvy viewers won’t have trouble spotting the aforementioned Wall-E, but also E.T., The Midnight Sky, The Martian, I Am Legend, and many others sprinkled throughout the film. Finch may be derivative, but that also doesn’t prevent it from being good. Hanks is, as always, the definitive Everyman, and his performance elevates the movie around him.

Even beyond that, Finch captures the zeitgeist of the early 2020s. Humanity is even more fragile than we’ve ever realized, and tomorrow has never felt less guaranteed. We’ve looked out onto lifeless streets and empty skies. We’ve squabbled over politics while the world burns. In the end, it’s not that Finch packs more of a punch. We’re just more sensitive to its impact than ever before.

115 min. PG-13. Apple TV+

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