Finch is a three sci-fi cronies: Tom Hanks, his dog and a robot

Such a basic airy sci-fi journey, Bullfinch follows Tom Hanks traveling through apocalyptic America to San Francisco with his dog and a robot in tow.

The story is aggressively simple, following the tried and true formula that your characters have to get from point A to point B to give the movie a purpose. Hanks, as the titular Finch, leads the way, a lonely and sick man who may well be one of the last people on Earth. Radiation sickness slowly consumes him, leaving him to wonder who will take care of his beloved dog in the event of his death.

A quick reference to a solar flare provides a brief explanation as a precursor to the collapse of humanity. Of course, as with most doomsday stories, the origin of the disaster matters less than what happens after the fabric of society unraveled. In this case, the director Miguel Sapochnik portrays it as upbeat and positive as an apocalypse story, maintaining a consistently light tone by initially focusing on a humorous slapstick between Finch and his fellow travelers. Although a bit of darkness is sprinkled, it mostly only comes as a downpour when we come to the end of the trip.

The impetus for their sudden journey was due to the fact that Finch’s home base was soon to be the site of an extreme weather event that would make it uninhabitable. So he only has a few hours to pack all the supplies he can and get a motorhome for a road trip. Along the way, he’ll have to weather the pretty literal storms that come his way while raising the robot, Jeff, like a son in order to protect his dog.

The dangerous moments of the trip that become loud and bombastic have less impact because they are on the verge of ridicule. They get so excessive that it’s hard to feel like they’re real. A scene where the camper van is lifted into the sky pushes gullibility to a breaking point. However, a quieter moment where Finch demonstrates how the sun would scorch his skin until he was fried alive is more terrifying because of its simplicity.

The hostility of the environment forces him to always stay indoors or wear a protective suit whenever he needs to go outside. The details of the world are solidly constructed and remain the best parts of the movie. You hardly see any other human being during the entire run, leaving you with a deep sense of isolation. There is still a deep humanity to the story as conveyed by robot Jeff, brilliantly voiced and played via motion capture by Caleb Landry Jones. His personality brings a lot of life to the role, making him both childish and curious about the world around him.

It is similar to robots like Chappie although still more innocent and sweet. There is even an important moment when he has a dream, excited about the future that the three of us will have together. This future is still steeped in impending tragedy as it becomes clear that Finch is not long for this Earth. His declining health, illustrated by his frequent coughing up blood, is a key aspect of the story. He establishes how, in his last days, he began to reflect on the life he led. What was the point of all this since he spent much of his life completely alone?

This ensures that Hanks is fortunate enough to have multiple monologues in the style of his textbooks. It’s a role that’s not outside the realm of most of his previous work, and it feels a lot like riding a bike to the veteran actor. That’s not to say it’s bad, just familiar in execution and emotional reach. What separates it is the robot and the apocalyptic setting, elevating it beyond a standard story. On the contrary, the last ten minutes or so are the most interesting aspects of the film.

It would have been more engaging if this were developed and explored in more depth than just a conclusion. Still, it ends on a more complicated, melancholy note that deserves points for trying something slightly different. The rest of the film, while certainly solid, doesn’t really have much hope when it comes to plot or imagination.

Note: 3 out of 5.

Bullfinch is on Apple TV + on November 5th

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About Donald P. Hooten

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