I mean it as high praise when I say that Finch, the new Tom Hanks movie available for streaming on Apple TV Plus, is like the best Twilight Zone episode never made. Finch would have been one of those sentimental Twilight Zones rather than one of the eerie and plot-twisty ones—you know, not the one where it turns out the seemingly nice aliens came to Earth "to serve man" on their dinner tables, but one of those Christmas shows where the spirit of Yuletide redeems a forlorn soul.
We’re in post-apocalypse St. Louis. Hanks is Finch Weinberg, a genius inventor who hides out from the atmosphere and other human remnants in the subterranean levels of the high-tech company where he once worked. He is entirely alone but for his dog, and as the movie begins, he is putting the finishing touches on a robot he has built and brings to life and consciousness. The robot eventually names itself Jeff, and he and Finch and the dog set off for San Francisco in a 1984 RV to outrun a 40-day superstorm that would kill all of them.
People are comparing it to Cast Away, since Hanks is often the only human on screen here. But the Hanks movie it most closely resembles is Turner and Hooch, in which he plays an anal cop who must partner up with a sloppy French Mastiff, the only witness to the murder Hanks's character is investigating. Here Hooch is split in two. There's the adorable dog, Goodyear. The other half of Hooch is Jeff the robot, played (through motion-capture magic) by the brilliant young actor Caleb Landry Jones. Jeff is sweet and well-meaning and clumsy, an inspired Laurel to Hanks's occasionally exasperated Hardy.
Since Jeff can talk and since Jeff must learn about the world, he is an interlocutor for Hanks in a way that Wilson the volleyball in Cast Away obviously never was. Finch explains to Jeff how Earth was devastated, what happened to civilization as a result of the devastation, why he is alone, and what Jeff must do after Finch (who is dying of radiation poisoning) is gone.
There's really not much drama here, but man, is Finch lovable. Jeff is an inspired piece of design and Caleb Landry Jones personifies him with an awkward body language and I'm-slowly-learning-how-to-speak accent that are amazingly endearing. Hanks remains the most naturally compelling movie star of our time; he has moved beyond the "I'll watch him in anything" level of screen immortality to "I just want to know how long he can keep this up" legendary status.
For the past 20 years, he has made a specialty out of playing lonely and haunted men who have either weathered or who are weathering traumatic circumstances. The signature Hanks film in this regard is, of course, Cast Away, in which he spends more than an hour entirely alone on screen as a contemporary Robinson Crusoe. But he has also made three movies in which he played ramrod-straight authority figures forced to make terrifying decisions in solitary isolation due to extreme conditions. As Sully, he comes under investigation after his character is forced to land his aircraft and its hundreds of passengers into the Hudson River. In Captain Phillips, he is the traumatized helmer of a cargo ship taken by Somali pirates. In Greyhound, he is the emotionally withdrawn skipper of a World War II vessel under German attack in the North Atlantic.
But he doesn't need a uniform to assay such parts. Even in the light drama The Terminal (directed by Steven Spielberg and much derided, somewhat unfairly), he is a man alone, forced to live inside JFK airport for complicated visa reasons. What is it that appeals to him about these movies and these roles? It strikes me that this is the ultimate in vanity. Hanks makes movies that are about the characters Hanks plays. Exclusively. Entirely. Everyone else in them is an ancillary figure there to illuminate some aspect of his guy, or to give his guy a mission, or to present his guy with a sacrificial duty.
And why not? If I were Tom Hanks, I would also want to dig deep into what it means to be Tom Hanks. Clearly, Tom Hanks loves being Tom Hanks and he knows other people love that he's Tom Hanks and this is what keeps him going. If movies like Finch are what emerges from this spectacular solipsism, then by all means, solipsize, my man!
Update 5:32 p.m.: This piece was originally published on Monday, Nov. 8, at 5:30 p.m.
Published under: Movie Reviews