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November 14, 2021

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Man’s love for his dog in post-apocalyptic world

TOM Hanks doesn’t need a human or even a sentient acting partner to make a film or a scene sing. Think Wilson the volleyball, Hooch and even that laptop from “You’ve Got Mail.” So it’s not at all surprising if he’s the first guy on the list for your post-apocalyptic film about a man, a robot and a dog.

Even less surprising is that Hanks delivers in “Finch,” playing a robotics engineer who is dying from radiation exposure and desperately trying to make sure his dog will be taken care of when he’s gone. It’s the kind of premise that’s been designed to pull at your heartstrings. Dying Tom Hanks and a cute pup? It’s impossible to resist, and yet somehow it doesn’t work as the epic it would like to be.

The story started out as a 20-page short about a man who builds a robot to replace him as his dog’s caretaker by a film student named Craig Luck. He wanted it to be a calling card, and despite some initial rejections his last name proved apt. Luck’s idea charmed Ivor Powell, the associate producer of “Blade Runner” and “Alien,” who co-wrote the feature; Robert Zemeckis, who produced; Hanks; “Game of Thrones” director Miguel Sapochnik; and a major Hollywood studio (although Universal ended up selling the film to Apple TV+ during the pandemic).

Here, Earth has been rendered a dusty wasteland after a solar event destroyed the ozone layer, and direct sunlight is now the most dangerous thing in the world. It cooks any living thing within moments of being exposed.

Unlike the stranded, solitary men of “Cast Away” and “The Martian,” Finch has no family or home to get back to. He’s dying, the world is dying around him and he just wants to do everything he can to make sure the dog can live without him. The solution is rushed and imperfect — a robot he has to train on the go and is only at 72 percent completed — but he’s running out of time and has to make a treacherous journey to San Francisco in an RV from the 1980s.

This robot is impressively strong and book smart but more teenager than obedient servant. And his accent is a cross between Russian and the “Twin Peaks” Black Lodge backwards speak. This is the choice made by actor Caleb Landry Jones (a nod to his appearance in the “Twin Peaks” revival?), who also did motion capture work to play the robot. And, well, I’m not sure if it’s the voice or how the character was written, but this robot is hard to root for. Sometimes you find yourself wishing that he’d never been introduced at all, which is not exactly the best thing when he’s one of only three characters.

“Finch’s” scope and scale were clearly designed for the big screen and an attentive audience, which might prove difficult on a living room television (the same felt true of Apple TV+’s other Tom Hanks epic, “Greyhound,” which was still a superior movie.)

Although many of the visuals are quite familiar for anyone who has seen a post-apocalyptic movie in the past 20 years, they are striking and detailed nonetheless. Although it may be challenging to watch a film with cautionary messages about delaying travel and living life while you can in year two of a pandemic, Hanks’ performance makes it worth the effort.


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