Leave it to Tom Hanks to turn a post-apocalyptic dystopia movie where the Earth (or America) is a barren wasteland into a cutesy movie about an aging man, a dog and his android. It’s actually a philosophical movie on the idea that artificial intelligence can express emotions (such as love, joy and amusement) if exposed to them properly.
Before I continue, I want to remind you that this will contain SPOILERS, but I’ll try to keep it as minimum as possible. The movie exclusive on AppleTV is the second movie Hanks has appeared in that didn’t get a theatrical release due to the Covid-19 pandemic and distributed on the streaming service. After Greyhound, it leaves me to wonder if the filmmakers and production companies realized that both movies wouldn’t play to wider audiences.
Greyhound is the latest in what Hanks has made that could be considered “Dad Porn.” (No, it’s not that explicit sexual porn all over the Internet. I’m talking about movies that only seem to appeal to mostly older men. Imagine the Tom Clancy novels or movies or shows like Ray Donovan on Showtime.) Hanks has been making these movies for about a decade. He’s so fascinated with WWII and making movies that, God forbid, when he does pass, they may bury him at sea or in a military cemetery just his service in filmmaking.
Hanks, who along with his wife, Rita Wilson, were some of the first celebrities to publicly announce they had Covid, are so gosh-darn likeable, seeing him in a movie like Finch, you know it’s not your run of the mill “End of the World” movie. Hanks is 65 and finally starting to show his age. In this movie, he plays the titular character, just like in other movies such as Captain Phillips and Sully, two prime examples of Dad Porn.
The movie begins about 10 years after a solar flare destroyed the ozone layer making the Earth dangerous for people to be out in the sun as the temperatures are up to 150 degrees. Sun rays can easily burn skin in seconds. Hanks plays Finch Weinberg, a robotics engineer living in an underground lab for the company he used to work for before the solar flare. His only companions are a mutt dog, Goodyear (listed in film credits as Seamus), and a robotic helper named Dewey (just like in the movie Silent Running.)
At first glance, things seem to be okay. Finch wears a radioactive protection suit to scavenge the St. Louis area and has unlimited supply of movie and books to read. He’s also making a robotic android to take care of Goodyear. It’s never revealed of what, but Finch is dying (with hints of radiation poisoning) and on a limited time. When he notices a massive damaging storm heading toward his way, he quickly loads what he can into a modified motorhome and heads west to San Francisco.
The android (voiced by Caleb Landry Jones) is somewhat inquisitive but doesn’t get along with Goodyear. Over time, Finch and the android who chooses the name, Jeff, bond and become friendly. Finch was only able to download about three-fourths of what he wanted in Jeff before they left. So, along the way, he teaches Jeff how to drive the motorhome and how to play fetch with Goodyear as well as trying to explain to him things an android couldn’t understand, such as the notion of trusting someone, and how to be cautious of things with your instincts. Jeff questions why they only travel at daytime and Finch explains it’s more dangerous at night.
Eventually, Jeff seems to gain a personality. During a foraging expedition, Finch amuses him by showing how popcorn kernels will pop when they are dropped on a metallic hubcap because of the extreme heat. He later discusses emotional sensations as telling Jeff nothing can describe the feeling of standing on the Golden Gate Bridge, feeling the breeze and watching the ocean.
When Finch tells Jeff he’s dying and his health begins to decrease rapidly, Jeff feels emotions for Finch at one point places a wet washcloth on his forehead as he lies in bed. Can artificial intelligence have emotions? Dogs can have emotions. Finch tells Jeff that Goodyear wasn’t initially his dog and this hints a backstory but when he finally tells the story it’s more insight to Jeff about the realities of the world.
This scene told in flashback is the only other time other actors appear on screen. The rest of the time, it’s mostly a one-man show. Hanks has done it before with Cast Away. And Finch is a casserole hodgepodge of movies you’ve seen before. Like Cast Away and Silent Running, it’s about a man all by himself with non-human objects to keep him company. There’s a little bit of cuteness of 1980s Not Quite Human and Short Circuit franchises. Jeff is like WALL-E in which he has a curiosity of things and gains his own personality. Amblin Entertainment (founded by Hanks’ friend and collaborator Steven Spielberg) and ImageMovers (founded by Hank’s friend and collaborator Robert Zemeckis) are two of the production companies.
The movie also reminds me of AI: Artificial Intelligence as well as dystopia movie A Boy and His Dog. The movie was announced in the later part of 2017 under the title BIOS. I’m not sure if that would been a better title. But I’m almost certain Craig Luck and Iver Powell were inspired by Tay, which was an AI chatter box released by Microsoft on Twitter on March 23, 2016 and then began to post inflammatory and offensive tweets after 16 hours. Tay was exposed to trolls affecting the tweets. If an AI is treated as a friend or even a child, will it learn to love a human? Also, would an animal respond positively to AI that treats it with love.
Why do our furbabies love us? It’s because we show them love. They can sense it in us. Jeff exhibits behavior initially of a child including one scene in which he tries to drive the motorhome at a deserted roadside diner. This causes Finch to get on to Jeff as if he’s disciplining a child. And like a kid, Jeff does some wrong things. But despite Finch’s getting on to him, Jeff begins to feel bad and like he’s in trouble. It’s funny because Jeff has the strength to lift up the motorhome with only one arm, but acts sheepish whenever he does something wrong.
This wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for Jones’ performance. The actor is known for playing gullible characters who don’t do the smartest things in movies like American Made, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and even X-Men: First Class. I’m pretty sure he’s not like the characters he portrays but here he’s highly utilized.
If you go into this movie expecting your run of the mill dystopia movie, director Miguel Sapochnik manages to present it differently. That probably turned off a lot of viewers who were expecting the same-old same-old, but I’m glad he cut scenes with additional actors. We’ve seen other of these movies with ravagers and psychos. Finch and Jeff do face a threat but it’s handled a certain way to keep any actors from being seen. I think it was the right move just to have Finch on screen. It presents a sense that all livelihood is on the brink but in the latter part there’s some optimism that other parts of the country or the world have survivors.
Overall, it got some good reviews but not rave reviews. I found some of the criticism over the fact that Hanks still listens to popular songs while living in his bunker. Hmmm? OK. Ever been to an Irish wake? People get totally drunk. After my stepfather’s funeral, everyone gathered for a dinner at his sister’s. They were watching NASCAR and chit-chatting as if it was a holiday dinner. You can continue to enjoy certain things while grieving and in mourning.
Finch has faults, but I think it’s overall theme is even at the worst times, we have to remain optimistic and have hope. Rather than film in cloudy wooded areas where trees are barren, most of the action take places in the western frontier. St. Louis is the gateway to the west. The clear skies present a brighter view of the future.
What do you think? Please comment.