Character actor Will Patton has knocked every part he’s ever played out of the park, no matter how small those roles have been. Whether you know his name or just his face, a supercut reel of his finest on-screen moments – among them asking William Fichtner why he has a gun in space in Michael Bay’s Armageddon – would go toe to toe with most lauded leading men. So, it’s a real treat to see him fronting a flick for a change in Christian Parkes’ new feature Hammer, a tight crime thriller about a father helping his son out of a jam.

The film’s title seems to signify little more than its relentless pace, hammering through a breathless series of unfortunate events unfolding in something close to real time. But after its closing moments, a dedication to the director’s father. Ian “Hammer” Sparkes, fades in over the black. As much as Hammer is a threadbare, pulp throwback, it is also a love letter to the duty and obligation of fatherhood, and the way parents and their children are inexorably tied well past getting a child over the legal age of being an adult.

Patton plays Stephen, whose son Chris (Mark O’Brien) has long since been ostracized within the family. Chris got mixed up in drugs when he was younger and that black mark left him outcast from his folks, which only led him further into a world of crime. Not long after the film’s opening, Chris botches a doublecross on his partner Adams (Ben Cotton) over $200 grand, igniting the powder keg that fuels the rest of the runtime. Stephen doesn’t support or approve of the life he discovers his son is still leading, but he’s not about to let his boy get hunted by someone who wants him dead all by his lonesome.

The ensuing picture is so impressive for how sharp and coiled its plot is without ever feeling fussy and overwrought. It deals in the basic blocks of life and death, laying successive obstacles in Stephen and Chris’ plans that require exponential collaboration from an otherwise law-abiding man trying to protect his criminal son. Within that framework, we see that the bedrock of right and wrong don’t always line up one to one with the law Stephen respects, and it forces him into a more primal space of just trying to do right by his kin.

Add to that the involvement of Chris’ younger brother Jeremy (Connor Price) and the powerful way Sparkes explores the fractures in this happy family and few modern indie crime flicks let these themes play so well within the well-worn genre. Stephen’s wife spends the entire film distancing her parenting from the failings of her son all the while trying to move her own father into his old room, because even at her current age with fully grown children, she’s still chasing that man’s approval. It makes such a stark contrast with Stephen himself, who comes to realize all the ways, big and small, his own decisions formed the man his son became.

This would be a great part for a lot of actors, but Patton puts so much wounded pride into his portrayal of Stephen, a man willing to go the distance for his children and unafraid to confront his own complicity. It’s one of the best turns of his entire career and more than worth the price of admission for Hammer, the kind of tense and economical thriller the indie marketplace could sure use more of.

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