Tom Hanks in ‘Castaway’ meets ‘Wall E’
There are three characters in Bullfinch, and only one of them is human. Fortunately, that human is Tom Hanks, playing the role of a dying scientist who trains a robot to take care of his dog in the delicious latest version of Apple +.
That we’ve already seen and loved Tom Hanks screaming at inanimate objects throughout an entire movie (Castaway – WILSON!) and enjoyed by whimsical, anthropomorphic robots that roam post-apocalyptic landscapes in search of the meaning of life in another (the great Wall E) gives the impression that a concept combining the two would be somehow hack, derivative, unoriginal. Still Bullfinch feels downright innovative, boldly confident that Tom Hanks training a robot to care for his dog in a post-cataclysm Earth is a feeling sweet and human enough to carry an entire film.
He is. And the fact that Miguel Sapochnik and his writers, Craig Luck and Ivor Powell, just trusted that impulse enough not to clutter it with unnecessary narrative fluff makes it even sweeter. Pretty much any other movie like this would have given Finch Goldstein (Hanks’ character) 10 stories of unnecessary sobs, about his wife, his family, his important work as a scientist and blah blah blah . But that would only have belittled him. For all the films where the hero, or worse, the thousands of others where a tertiary character, sacrifices himself to save his child or for the good of humanity, is there anything more altruistic and invigorating than ‘a guy who spends his last hours trying to predict a creature that shares none of its DNA in a world where humans might be extinct? What a sweet idea.
Caleb Landry Jones voices the robot, Jeff, who looks a bit like a computerized Borat at first, and more and more human as he learns to communicate. With a character design that falls somewhere between The Iron Giant and Johnny 5, he works at least as well as any human character. Which, like its ancestors, makes it work as a simple affirmation of conscience. The dog, it must be said, is also an incredibly handsome boy, a lookalike of Spots de The island of dogs that steals every scene it’s in.
Produced by Amblin Partners, a descendant of Amblin Entertainment, who gave us HEY and Back to the future, Finch is quite the Amblin Entertainment version of Chappie; Nothing more and nothing less. There isn’t even much else to say. For all the filmmakers who have relied on Amblin and the ’80s Spielberg as a stylistic touchstone, Bullfinch comes about as close as I saw it to actually capture it.
‘Finch’ premieres November 5 on Apple +. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can check out his archive of film reviews here.