Movie Review: Hammer (2019)

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In this efficiently made, swiftly paced new thriller from award-winning Canadian filmmaker Christian Sparkes, one impulsively bad decision begets another when Chris Davis (Mark O'Brien) tries and fails to execute a double-cross in a drug deal gone terribly wrong.

Grabbing a dirt bike from the scene when he's caught in the crosshairs of a gun, Chris barely escapes with his life before he's caught once again. Luckily, it's not by the dealer (Ben Cotton) this time but rather his estranged father Stephen (Will Patton) who happens to see Chris fleeing from the scene of the crime when he's stopped in traffic in the crossroads of his small Canadian border town and hits his own gas pedal in response. 

He soon catches up to Chris, whom we discover in a key line of dialogue had been forced out of his family's lives when he'd gotten in trouble for this sort of thing before. But when Stephen sees the panic in his son's eyes and the blood on his sleeve, he puts all of his preconceived notions of right and wrong out of his mind and offers his help.

Introducing us to the first of the three other members of the Davis family who will be ensnared in this debacle to varying degrees by the time the film is over, Hammer uses the universal theme of the blood ties that bind to transcend what might otherwise have been a narrative derived solely from first-person films noir. 

Fusing the drama together with a light dose of symbolism as well as raising questions of moral responsibility toward not only parents to their children but children to their parents as well, Hammer serves as a clever reminder that crime rarely impacts one person alone but instead affects every individual that person loves. The impetus for the film overall, in his sophomore effort and follow-up to his multi-award-winning feature debut Cast No Shadow, Sparkes intentionally set out to challenge "perceptions of who criminals are and where they come from." 

Wisely setting Hammer in the suburbs and focusing on an entire family (as opposed to only the criminal upon whom most genre films tend to fixate), together with its economical storytelling, this approach places us right inside the car alongside Stephen and Chris as they barrel down the road towards danger and the unknown for the rest of the movie's lean eighty-two minute running time. 

Although in need of a bit more closure and perhaps, one more hurdle to bring the rest of the family – especially the mother (played by Vickie Papavs) – more effectively into the proceedings than the last act offers, Hammer is still an impressively tense nerve-jangler overall. Benefiting from its dynamic cast, the film is bolstered in particular by its two leads, namely Mark O'Brien who first caught my attention in AMC's acclaimed word-of-mouth hit series Halt and Catch Fire, and veteran character actor Will Patton who's been stealing scenes since the 1980s. 

Released in Canada in 2019 and newly unveiled for rent on VOD in the states this week, in Hammer, Christian Sparkes proves once again that you don't need a big budget or special effects to catch viewers in the crosshairs of inventive character-driven suspense.

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