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Miguel Sapochnik’s “Finch” may not be one of the best films of the year, but it’s certainly one of my favorites. Set in an apocalyptic future in which global warming has resulted in major cities being swamped with sand and temperatures in the 150s, the movie contains a message of hope that’s neither forced nor trite, primarily because it’s not delivered through rose-colored glasses. Also making it unique in the genre is that there are no roving gangs of marauders or massive action sequences, but rather a more intimate look at the toll isolation takes and the need for companionship. Think “Robinson Crusoe,” not “Mad Max.”

Tom Hanks takes on the titular role, a scientist with the smarts to adapt to the inhumane conditions he finds himself in and ekes out a living by scrounging for supplies. Humming Don McLean’s “American Pie” as he navigates the sand-strewn St. Louis streets, he’s about as optimistic as one can be in his situation. Taking what he finds back to his book-laden bunker, his only companion is his dog. It’s as comfortable an existence as one could hope for, given the circumstances.

However, Finch knows he’s dying, that whatever radioactive rays that caused the global catastrophe are slowing killing him. Realizing his dog will outlive him, he creates a robot, whose objective is to take care of his four-legged friend and serve as a repository for as much history and information Finch can download into him.

The crash course that ensues on how to mind a pet, survive the elements and look at the world through human eyes makes up the bulk of this charming film as Finch tries to impart all he knows — and a bit of feeling — to his well-meaning mechanical friend. Wry and winning, the conversations Jeff — a name chosen by the mechanical man after more famous ones have been discarded — and Finch have are mini moral lessons that Hanks delivers with his usual unassuming, warm manner. The deft touch the actor’s employed so effectively over the years is put to great use here, as he recounts memories from a life that no longer exists. The poignancy he imparts — never overselling the emotion — speaks to the character’s grateful nature, a thankfulness that he’s experienced so much. There is no bitterness over what he may have missed, just an acceptance of what is and the willingness to meet each day and its challenges.

The artistry that goes into bringing Jeff to life is astonishing. A motion-capture performance from Caleb Landry Jones serves as the basis for the character’s movements, and the subtleties he brings to the role are wonderfully accented by the video-effects team. It’s astonishing how expressive they make Jeff, though he lacks eyes, facial expressions and other traditional modes of human communication. Jones’ body language — eagerly leaning forward while listening intently, a quizzical nod of the head, twiddling his fingers, moving his knees up and down or slouching at the shoulders — are almost human. Wisely, Jeff’s movements aren’t completely polished, a bit of robotic hesitation still present, making him vulnerable and relatable.

Couple this with the character’s stilted language, and it's everything Hanks can do not to have the film stolen right out from under him by this CGI-human hybrid.

The film overstays its welcome, and more background on Finch would have been welcomed. However, seeing Jeff dance with glee while watching popcorn popped on a blazing hot hubcap or witnessing the expressive robot pout after making an innocent mistake are so delightful, you’ll willingly forgive the film its faults.

For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Koplinski on Twitter (@ckoplinski). His email is chuckkoplinski@gmail.com.

Film Critic

Chuck Koplinski is The News-Gazette's film critic. His email is chuckkoplinski@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter (@ckoplinski).

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