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film review

Tom Hanks and Caleb Landry Jones (as Jeff the robot) star in Finch, which premieres Nov. 5, 2021 on Apple TV+.APPLE TV+

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Directed by Miguel Sapochnik

Written by Craig Luck and Ivor Powell

Starring Tom Hanks and Caleb Landry Jones

Classification PG; 115 minutes

Available to stream on Apple TV+ starting Nov. 5

Critic’s Pick

If the pandemic has accidentally birthed a handful of cinematic genres – the Zoom film, the one-location-few-actors film, the panic-button documentary – the COVID-19 era’s best on-screen invention is the Tom Hanks comfort movie.

Over the past 19 months, Hollywood’s Nicest Man™ has headlined two defiantly old-fashioned films, the Second World War naval thriller Greyhound and the western News of the World, which each delivered solid and sturdy solace to audiences stuck at home. Sure, neither films were designed to skip theatres – and although its theatrical run was brief, News of the World played for a few weeks at whichever cinemas were open before topping VOD platforms – but the circumstances of a locked-down world turned the projects into ideal low-stakes diversions.

Now, with this week’s Apple TV+ premiere of Finch, we can add a third title to the Tom Hanks comfort movie canon, officially constituting a trend. Like Greyhound and News of the World, Finch was originally destined for theatres before everything changed. And maybe the gentle sci-fi drama would have played well on the big screen – its sound mix, a whirl of hurricane-strong winds and magnificent dust storms, cries out for a proper surround-strength system. But as things stands, director Miguel Sapochnik’s feature feels right at home in the comfort of, well, your home.

A post-apocalyptic spin on Cast Away, with a robot substituted for a volleyball, Finch opens with Hanks scrounging for food in a radioactive wasteland. The title character, a wily scientist who always worked better by himself, is one of the last people on Earth, after a solar flare knocked humanity on its butt. But Finch isn’t really alone. He’s got his trusty dog, Goodyear, for company, and has just completed the finishing touches on a crude, stumbling robot named Jeff (voiced by Caleb Landry Jones), who Finch hopes will one day serve as his pup’s guardian when he dies. When an incoming storm threatens Finch’s subterranean hideaway, our hero packs his unconventional family into a tricked-out RV for a perilous drive across the country, hoping to reach potential salvation in San Francisco.

Although Craig Luck and Ivor Powell’s screenplay is set in a lifeless hell-scape, Finch is not an especially dour affair. This is an all-American Armageddon, deliberately homey and soul-nourishing. While arrogant and prickly, Finch is another in Hanks’s long line of good guys trying to do their best in a world where the odds are stacked against them. And Jeff is less Terminator than WALL-E, a cute hunk of junk imbued with the most sympathetic elements of his creator. The film even opens, and closes, with renditions of Don McLean’s American Pie, for crying out loud.

While such an aw-shucks attitude might sink such a film rather than buoy it, Sapochnik (Game of Thrones) wisely puts Hanks at the centre of nearly every scene, letting the actor’s ceaseless charisma carry audiences through the End Times. We attach ourselves to Finch partly because of the character, but also because we’re rooting for Hanks to escape the island, oops, I mean the apocalypse.

It helps immensely, too, that Sapochnik and his FX team have made Finch’s robotic companion as tangible a creation as possible. There are moments where you genuinely lose track of whether Jeff is actually a real thing playing off of Hanks or not. Yet this is mostly Hanks’s show. And there’s no shame in taking comfort in that pandemic-era fact.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.