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Hammer, starring N.L.’s Mark O’Brien, hits the right notes for critics

A crime thriller backed by a trifecta of Newfoundland and Labrador talents is getting lots of attention in the U.S. following its debut.

Set in a small town, Hammer follows the story of Stephen Davis, played by American actor Will Patton, and his son Chris, played by Newfoundland and Labrador’s own Mark O’Brien, as they flee a botched drug deal. 

“The response has been great. It’s exceeded my expectations, to be honest, especially in the U.S.,” said writer/director Christian Sparkes of St. John’s on Monday.

“We’ve got a lot of coverage and really positive reviews from places like Roger Ebert, the Hollywood Reporter, Variety — we’re up to 30 reviews now on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s really great.”

Movie website Roger Ebert gave the film three stars with kudos to the two male leads.

“Bad thrillers use their people as plot devices, pushing forward the twists and turns of a screenwriter instead of allowing the characters to drive the action,” wrote Brian Tallerico, the site’s managing editor. 

“Thanks largely to great work by Patton and O’Brien, I believed every second of Hammer.”

Writer-director Christian Sparkes speaks with actors Will Patton, middle, and Mark O’Brien, right, on set of Hammer. (Vertical Entertainment)

Sparkes’s debut feature Cast No Shadow, written by Joel Thomas Hynes, was nominated for four Canadian Screen Awards in 2015.

Sparkes and local producer Allison White teamed up again for Hammer, which also has a Hynes connection — while it is Sparkes’ original screenplay, an anecdote from one of Hynes’ novels pops up in a plot point.

Having both been in the St. John’s filmmaking scene, Sparkes and O’Brien were no strangers to one another. Sparkes said he’s grateful to have had O’Brien in his film, considering the actor’s continued success in American television and movies.

“We’re fans of each other’s work, tracking what each other is doing, and when I wrote this script he was the first person I had in mind,” Sparkes said.

“He had to juggle over offers, he’s a busy guy doing quite well for himself, so I feel quite fortunate that he agreed to come onboard.”

O’Brien’s recent Hollywood credits include Marriage Story, an Academy Award winner, Ready or Not and Arrival.

Sparkes was also happy to have snagged veteran character actor Patton for the movie’s paternal role.

Why Hammer?

Sparkes said the movie had a budget of around $2 million, larger than his first film’s.

“Once you’re union and you’re travelling to Ontario, and there’s guns and motorcycle chases, it doesn’t take long to eat the budget up,” he said.

While Hynes’ short story provided the base plot for the movie, its title comes from a personal place for Sparkes.

His father, Ian Sparkes, was nicknamed Hammer. He died while the film was in editing. 

Although his father was not the inspiration for Patton’s character onscreen, Sparkes said Hammer is an homage to a great man.

The movie is currently streaming on Apple TV.

Read more by CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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