Published Jun 29, 2020Director Christian Sparkes wastes no time ushering us into the adrenaline-pumping action of Canadian crime thriller Hammer. It begins rather innocuously — an Ontario family has just relocated grandpa to a senior home, when mom suggests moving him into the suite of their estranged son Chris (Mark O'Brien). Chris previously fractured the family structure by getting mixed up in various bad decisions, but dad Stephen (Will Patton) isn't ready to give up on his son ever returning home. Quickly, we realize Chris has yet to abandon his life of crime, and less than ten minutes in, his crew — amid a drug heist gone wrong — faces deadly gunfire.
After snaring an old contact, Chris attempts to cover up a body. Fleeing the scene on a dirt bike, he encounters his dad on a town road. Stephen senses something dangerous is amiss, and, not ready to let his son go at it alone, joins him on a damage control adventure.
The film superimposes thrilling breakneck action with the backdrop of Chris' suburban upbringing, which further lends to the anxiety of the story. Through the urgency of the situation, Chris and Stephen are forced to face their turbulent father-son relationship in real time — and despite their disagreements, work together to fight the vengeful drug dealer. Is Chris just one bad apple? Or the product of neglectful parenting? Both leads remain relatively anonymous, with Sparkes wasting no time on extensive back stories or frivolous aesthetics, opening up the question of culpability for the audience to ultimately decide.
Hammer is a succinct and realistic examination of these family archetypes, never leaning too far into the outlandish tropes of the crime thriller genre. You won't see any car chases or martial arts; rather, you'll get a slick, solid, hour-and-a-half tale of the everyman stumbling through dodgy black market activity, while trying to subdue the dangers he presents to the people around him. And it works really, really well.
The title and filming location's ubiquitous smoke stacks might have you believe that the movie was in some way, a nod to Ontario's southern hammer — Hamilton. But it's actually set and around in the unimposing northern border town, Sault Ste. Marie. Whether Newfoundlander Sparkes' intention was to pay tribute to his home country through the work remains unclear — but even incidentally, Ontarian viewers will immediately recognize Hammer as a snapshot of rural life at its most gripping and realistic.
The film doesn't break any molds, but offers incredible performances from its two leads and an emotional ride that will tug at just about anyone's heartstrings. It is an essential watch for fans of the genre who might be interested in seeing a film that, for once, uses a Canadian shooting location outside of Vancouver or Toronto.