[HAMILL screens Thursday March 24th at 7pm at the Cleveland International Film Festival.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
A fighter walks towards the ring. The crowd roars and hard rock music blares over the sound system. The man is Matt “The Hammer” Hamill (Russell Harvard), and although he can hear none of this, he can feel the vibrations and the energy in the arena. Before Hamill reaches the ring, however, we're jerked back to in time and space to Loveland, Ohio in 1976. Here we see Matt as a child having his hearing tested, and his grandfather Stanley (Raymond J. Barry) insisting that the boy go to regular public school, not some school for the deaf. He refuses to even let Matt learn sign language. Instead he learns to read lips and to speak, which gives him confidence in the short term, but hurts him later in life.
HAMILL follows the standard formula for inspirational sports movies that has worked since time immemorial. Matt takes up wresting and excels at it, but obstacles and setbacks are around every corner. When things seem at their worst, Matt goes running off, or finds a somewhere visually appealing and symbolic to lie down in resignation. The pendulum swings back and forth, back and forth until we eventually get to the collegiate nationals, which coincide with a particularly bad streak of luck for Matt. Will he find the inner strength to go on and perhaps even win?
While one can certainly admire Matt's accomplishments, as a protagonist he's bland. I'm not talking about the real person, who I have never met, but how he's portrayed here. The script focuses almost entirely on what Matt does, with precious little time devoted to who he really is. It's possible that the real life Matt Hamill was just as squeaky clean and singleminded as his cinematic version, but it feels like the movie is holding back from showing us any character flaws he might have. The problems of the script are compounded by Oren Kaplan's flat direction. This feels less like a movie made for the big screen and more like some made for TV movie from the eighties.
There's no doubt that Matt Hamill's story as presented here could give inspiration to some, and on that level I respect and appreciate the film. But as pure cinema, it's just not particularly gripping. HAMILL's heart may be in the right place, but we've seen this kind of story on film many times before, and better. 2 out of 4 stars.