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HAMMER: 3 ½ STARS. “an engaging thriller with great lead performances.”

“Hammer,” a new VOD thriller starring Will Patton, uses many of the genre’s puzzle pieces but rearranges them in a new and interesting way.

Chris (Mark O’Brien) is having a very bad day. Estranged from his parents and deep in debt to some very bad people, he arranges a deal with an old associate, Adams (Ben Cotton). They arrange to meet on a rural road to exchange $200,000 in cash in return for drugs. The deal goes wrong, bullets are fired. Adams (Ben Cotton) and his girlfriend Lori (Dayle McLeod) are wounded as Chris, covered in blood splatter, makes a getaway on a motorcycle with the drugs and money.

As he speeds through town his father Stephen (Will Patton), out doing errands, spots him and immediately knows something is wrong. The situation escalates as Adams, looking to find Chris and the stash, grabs Chris’ younger brother Jeremy (Connor Price) as a hostage. “You haven’t changed,” Stephen says as he and Chris drive toward an uncertain outcome. “You haven’t changed one bit.”

Just after everything goes sideways in Chris’ life director Christian Sparkes stages a scene in a cornfield that tells us everything we need to know about Chris in one potent image. Hidden among the plants is a snake devouring itself. It’s a quick shorthand for the cyclical nature of Chris’ self-destruction. He’s been in trouble before, and the imagery suggests the pattern will continue, even if he makes it out of this scrape alive. It’s details like this that elevate a standard crime drama, complete with crooked ex-colleagues, innocent family members and bad debts, from the same-old to something new.

But it is the father and son relationship that gives the movie its momentum. It asks, and mostly answers, big questions about unconditional love and how far a father will go to help his son. Sparkes builds tension all the way through the tight eighty-minute running time but never forgets to allow the relationship between the father and his ne’er do well son to slip from the forefront of the storytelling.

“Hammer” is an engaging and offbeat thriller that makes the most of its lead performances. O’Brien manages to make Chris almost likable despite his constant foul-ups and Patton, as a father caught up in a breathless situation, is all strength and goodwill, even when he’s doing terrible things. Why this wasn’t released on Father’s Day I’ll never know.

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