Tom Hanks is by now one of the most well respected and admired actors. Not just for his roles but also his endless charm, storytelling talent and love of manual typewriters. He’s the sort of actor that no matter the role and no matter the fact you know you’re watching ‘Super Famous Actor Tom Hanks’, he has an innate ability to draw you into a performance. To make you believe in that character. Most of these characters are agreeable, every-men - sometimes with flaws but almost always readable humans.
It’s this unique presence that Hanks brings to the role of Finch in, er, Finch; the new Apple Original movie. As we’ve seen before in Castaway, Hanks can even carry a film entirely by himself, and that’s what he does again here. The only other performances are Caleb Landry Jones - doing motion capture and voice work for Finch’s robot creation ‘Jeff’ - and a very good boy by the name of Seamus as Finch’s dog ‘Goodyear’. It’s Goodyear who provides the drive for Finch and whose well-being is key to the whole film.
The story revolves around a near-future version of Earth after a huge solar flare has wiped out much of humanity and whose survivors have either perished in the desolate aftermath or are surviving by looting and scavenging what is left. These other inhabitants are only hinted at during the 2-hour runtime, lurking around the corner or down the seemingly endless road. What we’re focused on is Hanks, I mean, Finch; who is dying due to repeated radiation poisoning and wants to make sure his faithful pal Goodyear is going to be looked after when he is gone. He builds a robot that is loaded with facts about the world but who, of course, lacks the lived experience to fully exist properly. Pushed on by an impending storm, Finch and co jump in an RV to head to San Francisco where he believes they will be safe while listening to classic hits like ‘American Pie’. (Does anyone just listen to Beyonce or LCD Soundsystem in an apocalypse. Why always classic hits?)
One immediately apparent thing is how sad this film is. Despite some slapstick and jokes, mainly around Jeff, the tone is unforgivingly bleak. Even the endless charms of Hanks don’t raise that. However, that’s kind of the point. Finch is dying, there’s no way of getting around that. He’s just focused on getting to a safe place and getting Jeff up to speed before his time runs out. Even in moments of levity where Finch is enjoying the world or teaching a new experience to Jeff, you know this is only papering over his internal pain, both physical and emotional.
This is really where Hanks is an essential part of the movie. With a lesser actor, you wouldn’t connect as well, but with his performance, you feel his desperation to have everything prepared for Goodyear. It certainly calls into question our legacy on this earth. As Finch walks around, casually stepping over long-dead bodies of long-forgotten people you wonder whether part of his need to care for Goodyear is an unconscious desire to be remembered, even if it’s just by a dog. Landry Jones also provides a great performance for Jeff, not visible on screen but whose awkward movements and very strange finger twiddling and hand gestures give real life to the newly born robot. Not sure why a faux Russian accent was chosen, though!
The road movie feel has a gradual inevitability to it. The feeling that your time with these characters, or at least Finch, is limited. I felt a few parallels with the recent London Film Festival winner ‘Hit the Road’ in its dysfunctional pairing of characters travelling to a destination they don’t want to get to but know is inevitable. There are also obvious connections to The Road both in its unremitting sadness and central living survivors.
If this all sounds like a negative review of the film, it is not. There are some flaws in the way some of the action scenes can feel a little wedged in and questions about humanity and trust are asked but not delved into. However, the main body of the film provides a strong emotional connection to the audience, driven by the wonderful Hanks and a willingness to not give us easy resolutions. Whether you will want to endure the emotional grief of this world for 2 hours is another question. But I hope the answer is yes.
This review originally appeared on Screen Times.