Hammer Review: A Sleek, Well-Acted Crime Thriller


How far will a father go to protect the life of a criminal son? Hammer answers that thorny question in the idyllic cornfields of a rural Canadian border town. The film is an intense crime thriller adroitly interwoven with a compelling family drama. The disappointment a parent feels in their child’s poor choices is measured against unconditional love. Hammer tackles heavy themes in its relatively short runtime.

Hammer opens with a drug deal gone bad. Chris Davis (Mark O’Brien) meets an old friend, Adams (Ben Cotton), and his girlfriend (Dayle McLeod), on a desolate country road. Chris was a drug mule, returning to smuggling after several years out of the game. His old pals wonder what drew him back. They mock his new nine to five lifestyle. A nervous Chris is eager to complete the transaction.

Stephen Davis (Will Patton) argues with his wife (Vickie Papavs). He doesn’t have the patience for their issues at the moment. Stephen leaves to run an errand, only to see his estranged son race by erratically on a dirt bike. He follows Chris, and then intercepts him. Bloody and rattled, Chris tells a desperate tale of betrayal and murder. A stunned Stephen decides to help his son. As the truth behind the botched deal is revealed, Stephen realizes the magnitude of the situation. Chris has put their entire family in danger.

Hammer plays out with shotgun pacing. At a blistering eighty-two minutes, the film holds your attention rapt from the first frame to the last. The audience experiences the crises as the characters face them. There’s no time for deliberation. Stephen and Chris must act impulsively to survive. They are forced to address a relationship frayed by years of emotional burden. All of the issues that have gone unsaid between father and son are thrust into the open. Will Patton and Mark O’Brien are fantastic under duress. The tension between their characters is the film’s anchor. They behave realistically in scenes that could have easily become melodramatic.

Canadian writer/director Christian Sparkes (Cast No Shadow) establishes razor’s edge tension over multiple storylines. Secondary characters become more important as the plot unfurls. I was pleasantly surprised by their impact on the story. There’s a lot going on here. The threads that bind the characters together are more complex than initially thought. Hammer is a lean film loaded with intrigue. Sparkes gets top marks for his thoughtful ending.

Hammer does not fall into a gratuitous violence trap. There were ample chances in the plot to go overboard with bloody fighting and gunplay. Christian Sparkes firmly grounds his characters. The Davis clan are not expert fighters or gun toting bad-asses. Neither is the antagonist pursuing them. A subplot cleverly addresses this issue. The action scenes are visceral and savage. Their tone adds effective believability to the film. Hammer is a Canadian production from Sara Frost Pictures, Away Films, and The Screen Asylum. It will be available to stream June 5th on demand from Vertical Entertainment.

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