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In Praise of Tom Hanks’ Apple Movies That No One’s Heard Of

This Friday, the two-time Oscar-winner is in a charming, low-key sci-fi film called ‘Finch.’ Like last year’s ‘Greyhound,’ it allows us to see what Hanks is capable of when audiences aren’t paying attention

There’s a very good chance that, by reading this article, you are just now finding out that Tom Hanks has a movie coming out Friday. That’s weird you don’t know that, right? Don’t feel bad: Finch, which starts streaming on Apple TV+ November 5th, hasn’t received the sort of promotional push and award-season hoopla you usually expect from the two-time Oscar winner. This lack of advertising might lead you to assume that Finch is bad. That’s actually not the case — but like last year’s Greyhound, another movie that came out on Apple TV+ starring Hanks, it’s a modest genre film that really doesn’t need to be starring Beloved Hollywood Icon Tom Hanks. 

Wait… you haven’t heard of Greyhound either? Yeah, it’s been a weird period in Hanks’ career — also, though, it’s been a really interesting one. I wouldn’t say Greyhound or Finch are anything resembling masterpieces, but they’re fascinating because they’re not the sort of movies he normally makes, allowing him to show shades he rarely reveals. Other actors start phoning it in at a certain point. At 65, Hanks keeps trying new things.

First, a quick caveat: Neither Greyhound nor Finch started out as Apple films. Greyhound was supposed to come out through Sony, but because of the lockdown, the studio sold it to Apple — and the same thing happened with Finch, which Universal unloaded onto the streamer. That dumping would also suggest these movies are stinkers — if their original distributors really thought highly of the films, surely they’d hold onto them — and certainly reviews for Greyhound were pretty mixed. But while I can see why they’re castoffs, I find myself feeling weirdly protective of them — especially Finch, which is surprisingly effective despite how generic its setup is. Does anyone really need another post-apocalyptic tale about one solitary man making his way across a devastated America? And what if the guy created a talking robot who’s like a surrogate son/buddy? Well, much to my surprise, Finch works pretty well, despite its clichés — and a lot of the credit goes to Hanks, who plays a character he’s never quite tackled before. 

Finch is set in the near future after a solar flare has severely damaged the ozone layer, causing a chain reaction of panic and violent self-preservation in which the human race essentially destroyed itself. Finch (Hanks) is one of the few survivors, and we quickly learn there are two reasons why. One is that he’s a genius inventor/engineer, able to jerry-rig an RV to make it more fuel efficient and relatively resistant to the extreme weather now ravaging the planet. Also, and more crucially, he’s never had much use for human beings: Finch owns a dog named Goodyear and a robot dog named Dewey, and that’s really all the community he requires. Living in St. Louis and abandoned by his father before he was born, Finch is a loner who’s not all that interested in seeing the world. At one point, we discover he once visited New York City, which he didn’t care for. Too many people.

As the film begins, Finch is working on creating a robot (played by Caleb Landry Jones) that will keep an eye on Goodyear after Finch is gone. That turns out to be an urgent concern: Finch frequently coughs up blood, and Hanks plays the man as slowed and weakened. Despite his best efforts to avoid the dangerously hot sun and the lethal amounts of solar radiation present during the day, Finch is probably a goner — it’s merely a question of how soon.

Once Finch brings the robot to life, he teaches him how to execute simple tasks — this is how you walk, this is how you drive a car — but the robot (who eventually names himself Jeff) gets confused by certain human interactions, taking things literally or misunderstanding dire situations. (There are other people out in the world still, mostly scavengers who’d want to kill Finch for his camper and supplies.) The friendly Jeff longs to be Finch’s pal, but Finch doesn’t want companionship: He just wants to make sure that Jeff will watch after Goodyear. Finch is more worried about the dog being lonely than himself.

From that description, you can probably guess how Finch will go, especially after I mention that they embark on a cross-country trip to San Francisco so that Finch can see the Golden Gate Bridge before he dies. (There’s a personal, emotional reason for Finch to take this trip, but let’s not ruin that surprise.) Part road movie, part odd-couple comedy, a little bit last-man-on-earth sci-fi thriller, Finch is like Cast Away if Wilson the volleyball could talk back to Hanks. (Robert Zemeckis, who directed Cast Away, is actually a producer on Finch.) Life lessons will be learned, the power of the human spirit will be celebrated and lasting friendships will be forged. And while all of that is somewhat true, Finch ends up being a more peculiar movie than one might imagine. 

For one thing, Hanks isn’t necessarily playing the typical Tom Hanks type. Of course, he’s done change-of-pace roles in everything from Road to Perdition to the gently subversive A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, but in Finch he portrays a guy who’s not remotely remarkable. As brilliant as Finch is, he appears to have cut himself off from the human race long before that catastrophic solar event. It’s not like Hanks is channeling Daniel Day-Lewis’ bitter misanthrope from There Will Be Blood, but there’s a prickly, withdrawn quality to Finch that’s antithetical to Hanks’ natural ingratiating charm. And Hanks seems to lean into Finch’s unheroic demeanor: For once, he’s not the guy who rises up to become a better person or inspires others. Resigned to his fate, Finch wants to be left alone so he can die in peace. 

In a different way, this go-it-alone quality was also central to Greyhound, a very old-fashioned World War II naval-battle action-thriller. There, he played Ernest Krause, the flinty commander of a U.S. destroyer leading an armada through the North Atlantic as they battle Nazi ships. Krause is conceived as a classic war hero, but it was striking how different the character was from the men he played in Saving Private Ryan or Captain Phillips. We learn almost nothing about Krause — he doesn’t grow or change over the course of the film. Instead, Krause just has to keep his men alive, and so Hanks does a lot of barking and quick thinking, hollering orders as explosions ripple around him and the destroyer bobs up and down as it navigates the deadly waters. 

With its stripped-down approach and History Channel-esque creakiness, Greyhound could have starred anyone. Gerard Butler or Aaron Echkart would have fit snugly into the role. And the director, Aaron Schneider, is far from the sort of big-name auteurs that Hanks usually collaborates with. (That last point is also true with Finch, which is directed by Miguel Sapochnik, who’s best known for Game of Thrones.) But Hanks, who’s a history buff, seems to relish disappearing into the character, giving him a kind of noble anonymity. There are probably lots of Ernest Krauses during wartime — good soldiers doing their job in harrowing conditions — and Hanks pares away the movie-star trappings to deliver a performance that’s as elemental as the air and water and blood around him. The only thing that matters about the guy is whether or not he can keep his men alive. 

Even more striking, Hanks wrote Greyhound’s screenplay (based on C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel) — it’s only his third produced film script. He’s always been enraptured by American valor, but it’s rarely been as purely expressed as it is here — or in such an unsentimental fashion. Greyhound isn’t a blockbuster, but it’s far too big to be an indie — apparently, this was just an oversized passion project that Hanks really wanted to make. And at a time when studios mostly cater to gargantuan films based around recognizable intellectual property, Greyhound is the type of in-between movie it’s just about impossible to finance or market. You can understand why Sony dumped it.

Finch is equally an odd duck. The story isn’t full of big action sequences — there’s not even a single gunshot — and the plot consists mostly of Finch and Jeff hanging out together. It’s a fairly low-key drama in which one character’s demise is all but assured. But as Finch gets closer to the Bay Area, and his destiny, Hanks avoids awards-season theatrics, portraying this inventor as a guy who’s lived a passive, unmemorable life — and knows it’s too late now to do anything about it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Hanks play someone as consciously undynamic as Finch. In post-apocalyptic movies like this, we usually meet protagonists who rise to the challenge of their impossible circumstances. Not Finch, who will miss Goodyear and that’s about it. There’s a special sadness that Hanks brings to this painfully ordinary man who just so happened to survive the end of the world. He wasn’t brave as much as he was resourceful and lucky. There’s no reason to make a movie about him — that’s why it’s so interesting that Hanks decided it was worth the effort.

Finch and Greyhound appear to be blips on Hanks’ résumé. His next few projects seem suitably Hanks-ian: He’s part of Baz Lurhmann’s splashy Elvis Presley musical and Robert Zemeckis’ live-action Pinocchio, where, of course, he’ll play Geppetto. (After that, he’s going to be in the massive ensemble for the upcoming Wes Anderson film.) And around the same time as he made those two Apple movies, he reunited with Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass for the Oscar-nominated News of the World. Clearly, no one needs to worry about Hanks’ career. 

But these smaller, destined-to-be-forgotten Apple curiosities are terrific glimpses of “minor Hanks,” the films that will never make his career-achievement highlight reel but suggest some of the range he has as an actor. For decades now, we’ve become accustomed to every Tom Hanks movie being an event. That’s not the case with Finch and Greyhound, which someday are going to be ripe for rediscovery. Why not just check them out now?