In Christian Sparkes’ no-frills Hammer (2019), son draws his father into a post-heist-gone-wrong drama. Minimal style of the film works because of its tight runtime, and the go-for-broke plot.
Neatly packed in just 82 minutes, Hammer (2019) introduces us to Chris (Mike O’Brien) who meets with his partners-in-crime – Adams and Lori. In a split second the three arrive at a crossroads – Chris is on the run, Lori’s ditched half-dead in a cornfield and Adams’s left to bleed out alone.
Next thing we know is that Chris arrives at his crib, where he encounters Stephen (Will Patton), his father. The panicked son explains that he’s in deep trouble. Without hesitation Stephen turns his parental instinct on despite the guilt-ridden relationship with Chris. That help, however, means getting knees-deep in the mud.
Us-against-the-world kinship describes best the bond of Chris and Stephen. Christian Sparkes naturally lets the main duo carry the film, alas we never learn more than the absolute necessary about them. Sparsely used dialogues reveal very little background of the characters, and Sparkes’ clearly not fond of exposition either. Hammer (2019) moves its wheels without little stops on the way. It’s like the heist in Reservoir Dogs (1992), but even less detailed.
Surprisingly, Christian Sparkes sprinkles details about supporting characters – like Chris’ mother who steps on Stephen’s toes with a rushed decision to move her father in. Nonetheless, the leads are largely unmapped, and the supporting roles seem peripheral in relation to the plot. Hammer (2019) could easily drop that balast in order to spare extra time arriving at the troubled Chris-Stephen bond.
Will Patton and Mike O’Brien shine bright in Hammer (2019)
Despite having little of background to work with, both Mike O’Brien and Will Patton sell the prodigal son dynamic in its entirety.
Stephen’s authoritative figure works because of Patton’s charisma, understood not as flamboyance but rather low-simmering, even adamantine nature that Will Patton channels. As the saying goes “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” Patton’s composure allows him to play a character true and honest. Stephen’s a good guy whose worst actions will always find a morally right explanation. With the heart on his sleeve, he embraces the guardian angel role, who is torn between the familial hiatus and current events.
In comparison with Stephen’s poised and self-controlled role, Chris strikes as closer to a dynamite that’s way too close to fire. Mike O’Brien’s physique is key to the way we perceive Chris. Behind a pair of shifty eyes and the provoking small-town temper lies a restless soul, a sneaky if morally lost predator. There’s a bit of Robert Pattinson’s role from Good Time (2017) here, as well as Fargo-esque cynicism for spiciness.
Hammer (2019) will please fans of modest, low-budget thrillers
Because it’s stylistically close to films such as Good Time (2017), Hammer (2019) too relies on one guy’s streak of bad decisions. But while Safdie Brothers settled on a character study, Christian Sparkes bets on bringing together the domino effect with familial matters that bind the characters. Some of those knots aren’t tied too well, and Sparkes does limit the extent to which the characters feel relatable, resulting in bland supporting roles of Chris’ brother and mother.
Hammer (2019) is a film crafted not to impress or boggle one’s mind, but to highlight the destructive ways in which one fatal hiccup casts shadow on one family. Sparkes directs with sufficient confidence, and lets his leading duo Patton-O’Brien do the rest. As far as small-scale indie thrillers go, Hammer (2019) is steel-solid.
Hate Grade: 3.5/10
Director: Christian Sparkes
Writer: Christian Sparkes
Starring: Will Patton, Mike O’Brien
Cinematography: Mike McLaughlin
Music: Jeff Morrow