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Film Review: “Hammer” Finds the Power of Parenthood Amid Its Tense Foreground

Written by: Hannah Tran | June 4th, 2020

Film poster: “Hammer”

Hammer (Christian Sparkes, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.

A surprisingly thoughtful entry into the crime-drama canon, Hammer juggles the fallout following a son’s gruesomely botched drug deal and his father’s devotion to helping him despite recognizing that both his son and himself will forever be changed in the process. In this tense story written and directed by Christian Sparkes (Cast No Shadow), new and old clash within the familiar suburban sprawl to produce a thematically timeless story about the depths and durability of familial love.

While it may look and feel like your typical middle-of-the-road indie flick, Hammer transcends many of its aesthetic shortcomings to provide a genuinely engaging and thoughtful rumination on the topics of family and fate. Sparkes has an impressive handle on the direction of the story and the characters within it. There is an effortless understanding of the characters’ motivations, their internal struggles and the constantly worsening stakes that they are facing. On top of this, Hammer manages to pull off a couple of subtle twists that not only successfully elevate the tension but also feel completely in line with its underlying thematic intent.

Will Patton in HAMMER ©David Howells 2018 www.davehowellsphoto.com

It is refreshing to see Sparkes’ dedication to rounding out each member of the family. Through short and simple exchanges, we really get a feel of who they are and the individual struggles they grapple with as they attempt to pursue their own desires and keep their family together. Most of the movie’s issues, in terms of characters, are with the generally weaker supporting cast. Although their acting does tend to be slightly more theatrical, the main issue is with their thinner characterizations, lack of developed relationships and superficial dialogue.

The two central performances, however, more than make up for this. Will Patton (Remember the Titans) and rising star Mark O’Brien (Ready or Not) perfectly capture the complicated relationship between father and son. It is through their physical and emotional rawness that Sparkes tests just how far that relationship can be pushed. Their at times violent transformation feels constantly present, their performances perfectly capturing the anxiety they experience as they begin to lose themselves in order to save themselves and each other.

Mark O’Brien in HAMMER ©David Howells 2018 www.davehowellsphoto.com

Although Hammer would benefit from more nuanced dialogue and characters, as well as a larger amount of ideas, it does manage to handle the ideas that it does present with confidence and ease. While it struggles to move outside its confines of budget and story, Hammer truly utilizes every minute of its runtime to ardently showcase the sheer perseverance of a father’s love.

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Hannah Tran is a film critic and filmmaker from Las Vegas, Nevada. She is currently studying film and English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In addition to her studies, Hannah works as a film screener for the Las Vegas Film Festival and publishes an independent zine focused on highlighing Asian American filmmaking.

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