It seems Newfoundland-born actor Mark O’Brien’s characters just can’t catch a break. After suffering mayhem at the hands of recent genre fare such as Bad Times at the El Royale and Ready or Not, O’Brien finds himself in yet another mess of trouble as he returns to home territory in the Newfie-lensed Hammer.
After a drug deal gone wrong (is there any other kind?), young ne’er-do-well Chris (O’Brien) finds himself on the run from former bestie Adams (reliable BC thesp Ben Cotton). With girlfriend Lori (Dayle McLeod) expired from a stray gunshot, Chris stashes her and two duffel bags of cash he’s unable to carry as he figures out the best way to skip town. His erratic behaviour raises a red flag with estranged patriarch Steven (Will Patton) who unwittingly finds himself ensnared in his son’s increasingly spiralling situation.
With Adams hot on their trail and Chris not 100% sure where he left the body or the money (“You didn’t leave a marker??” moans a frustrated Steven), the misfortunes only compound as it seems other members of the family may also be firmly planted in this caper starting with youngest son Jeremy (Connor Price). Suddenly Steven’s troubles with his offscreen father-in-law don’t seem so bad.
This sophomore feature from Christian Sparkes has all the best elements of a mainstream thriller and yet still manages to pack in juicy subtext into its lean 81 minute runtime. Underneath the car chases, gunshots and fist fights lies a slice-of-life drama that really is that. Just a slice. There are real questions raised and real questions to ponder, but no tidy resolutions to be had once the credits start to roll. This is a mess that even dear old dad may prove unable to fix.
Will Patton seizes your heart and melts it as a father attempting to right a lifetime of missteps in one day. O’Brien almost overplays his hand as the distressed Chris, but achieves the right middle ground to find chemistry with his fellow star. Cotton is again on-model as the increasingly deranged Adams and the rest of the cast provides ample support where needed with the only weak link apparent in an eyebrow-raising pawn shop sequence which could have used an extra script revision or two.
I enjoyed Hammer enough that it’s almost a shame that I must chastise it for lack of Canadian-ness. The film opens with Chris at a border crossing but damned if we know which country he’s entering. Pair that with American greenbacks plus blank licence plates (pick a state everyone!) and it all adds up to another taxpayer-fuelled Canadian movie with zero Canadian identity outside of some recognizable Ontario and Newfoundland locations and familiar performers. It’s bad enough that Hollywood keeps using us as a US stand-in. Why do our own producers insist on continuing the charade? For this sleight, even a competent effort like Hammer stands to lose a point.
Hammer makes its world premiere as part of Whistler Film Festival at Village 8 Cinemas on Thurs, Dec 5 @ 5pm