Finch is a tale of a man, his dog, and his robot.
It is, above all, sweet.
It can be sad, grim, and derivative, but none of those elements are a detriment to the sweetness. Indeed, they complement it. This is best illustrated by the opening scene, where the title character (Tom Hanks) scavenges his post-apocalyptic world while singing “American Pie”. Regardless of his voice’s quality, it’s a pleasant scene, one that grounds the film and gives us our guide. It tells us it’s a dangerous world, but Finch knows what he’s doing.
Finch has other pleasantries, including a record player and some lovely books, but the light of his life is his dog Goodyear (yes, like the tire brand). They have a simple relationship that, when looked at in conjunction with the dire state of the world, reflects equally simple but powerful truths. They have a familiar companionship, no different than you’d expect between people and their pets, but this pet is Finch’s only living companion, and is Finch’s only reason for living.
But he will not live forever. Finch is not even sure he’ll outlive Goodyear. So, he builds Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones), a robot, to take care of Goodyear when that day comes. The robot is technically magnificent and a work in progress. His mind has untold knowledge, including (but certainly not limited to) the number of rivets on the Golden Gate Bridge. What it lacks is the wisdom to not try to drive their RV when he has no clue how.
If this concept doesn’t sound original, it’s because it isn’t. Yet this is not a bug, but a feature. Instead of feeling like a lazy retread, Finch feels familiar, like an old friend. There’s a scene just shy of the halfway mark that speaks to this. While on a road trip to San Francisco, Jeff asks Finch “what is trust.” Finch explains the concept by telling a story related to an incident he had to salvage during his time working as a robotics engineer.
This scene is an encapsulation of the film. A robot yearning to understand human concepts is a tale that’s been around since the beginning of robot tales, but this familiar trope is in a scene defined by familiarity. The road trip setting and Finch’s’ comforting attitude reminded me of my Dad driving me around and telling me stories as a kid, and this is all while exploring one of the simplest and most significant sci-fi tropes.
It’s all treated with a simple, delicate reverence, and however bittersweet or dark Finch can get, it’s all in the service of that previously mentioned sweetness. The film balances them in a way that just hits the spot, not necessarily changing your world, but leaving you satisfied and better off for having watched it.