TL;DR – The ozone shield has been destroyed by a solar flare resulting in humanity imploding. Engineer Finch is seeking to make the most of the time he has left by creating an A.I robot that will take care of his loyal dog once he passes.
Review (warning: spoilers)
Finch Weinberg (Tom Hanks) lives on an Earth that has seen better days. The outside is an uninhabitable wasteland where temperatures and UV radiation are so high that you need a protective suit in order to wander around. We see Finch enter various collapsed buildings in search of food while he sings ‘American Pie’ by Don McLean. With him is trusty Dewey, a robot that appears to have a certain level of artificial intelligence. Finch manages to find some canned dog food and frantically returns to his home base just as a severe dust storm hits.
We watch Finch wash his suit, himself, and Dewey with care. A wracking cough indicating that Finch’s health is not in good shape. But his spirits rise when we see he has a companion, a pet dog named Goodyear. The lovable interactions between the pair, a clear sign of the bond they share.
His home is a combination of the futuristic mixed with the past. Finch is able to build and fix robots in a lab that also has shelves of books and an LP record player. He picks books, which he then places on a table for scanning by a robotic system. We see that some of the books being scanned relate to training and taking care of dogs. Finch tinkers with a new robot creation and proceeds to upload as much knowledge from the scanned books into its brain.
He powers up the robot and tests to see if it understands what he is saying. Eventually, it makes some progress and is able to communicate to Finch. However, the power goes out and Finch has to venture outside to fix up the wind turbine. There he sees a superstorm coming his way. He rushes back inside and asks the robot how long the storm will last and it predicts roughly forty days. Finch knows that he does not have enough food to survive that long. So with the robot’s knowledge transfer only 72% complete, he packs Goodyear and as much as he can into a modified motorhome and heads west to San Francisco.
Tom Hanks knows how to carry a film. If he can do it in Castaway with a volleyball he calls ‘Wilson’, he gets more than enough support from Goodyear, Dewey and his latest robotic creation, which it names itself as ‘Jeff’ (voiced by Caleb Landry Jones).
The motion capture and CGI creation that is Jeff is impressive. His evolution is a coming-of-age in an artificial intelligence-kind of way, and he looks up to Finch like a father figure. Set against a post-apocalyptic road trip, the journey and teaching of mortality are imparted on Jeff as he learns the difference between surviving and living, and the need for experience.
Though you know Finch will never live long enough to reach the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, you will still be blubbering (or at least teary eyed) when he passes. The clock is ticking, and every moment Finch teaches Jeff is a moment that matters. A sci-fi film about existentialism that should be watched through those lens rather than the lens of a sci-fi thriller or action movie.
8 out of 10