With lesser performers, too, maybe Hammer would have felt more like a gag. Yet O’Brien, fresh off a tremendous and under-seen performance in last year’s "Goalie," radiates nervy energy like it was the most natural thing in the world, while longtime character actor Patton gives his wary patriarch an urgent, unshakable sense of disappointment and unease. It’s almost worth eating your own tail over.
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Hammer is a tense little thriller, a tight movie about someone who made a very bad decision and is now trying to fight his way out of it.
The pileup of disasters is such that this tale might easily have been spun as some kind of grotesque comedy. But writer-director Christian Sparkes’ second feature plays it straight, narrowly evading viewer disbelief via strong principal performances and sufficiently urgent execution.
Delivering plenty of suspense in its taut 81 minutes, this is the sort of pretension-free film that in earlier days would have been directed by the likes of Edgar J. Ulmer or Joseph H. Lewis. Like those B-movies, Hammer lacks a big-name star. But it more than makes up for it by providing a rare leading-man opportunity for veteran character actor Will Patton, who delivers a superb, riveting turn.
A genuinely suspenseful ride thanks to all the moving parts and multi-layered motivations.
While there are a few credibility hurdles here (including a lot of butter-fingered gunplay) Patton’s authoritative performance keeps things honest.
Hammer has the mechanics of a hard-edged noir thriller, which work startlingly well, but it’s clear that Sparkes’s heart, and therefore the film’s, is centered on the distressed familial relationships.
They make this one tick over like clockwork, jumpy opening to nerve-wracking finish.