Monday, March 21, 2011

Hamill (March 24th at the Cleveland Internationa Film Festival)

[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.


  1. Great film! Hamill started off as a very high energy modern Hollywood fighter type of movie, but quickly brought you back through a flashback to the reality that life is not always perfect, fair and glamorous. This story is as much about Matt Hamills family, coaches and friends as about him in the 80s and 90s. This is what tells the total story, if the total focus was solely about Matt Hamill it would be too Rocky like and predictable. Matt Hamill had to live, unsuccessfully, as well as successfully, with the challenges of a hearing impaired youth everyday of his life. Most of his life was competing socially as well as athletically with the non hearing challenged people. Every day life placed many challenges in front of him, it was not necessary to put anymore flaws into the character. The flaws that really told this unusual story were the flaws of the non deaf people that came and went throughout the course of his life. The story is not one of ups and downs, but more like a staircase with landings along the milestones of his life.

    The average Hollywood director could have easily enhanced the story with a sprinkling of artificial achievements and story lines, but director Oren Kaplan evidently kept this story very close to the real Hamill. I went to the show expecting another Hollywood story about a down and out athlete that achieves athletic success by hard work, motivation and an extraordinary effort at the films climax. This picture captured me because of the reality of the continuous level of mild pain that you knew many of the characters were feeling, but the real rock was Hamill himself hanging tough when many of the people around him would falter in their confidence.

    After meeting the real Matt Hamill at the “After Show Hamill Party”, it was hard to accept the fact that the move was not just continuing. In meeting some of the real people in his life, it was apparent that in selecting the actors that played them, Kaplan really nailed this one! Regarding flaws, at this time of his life there were none visible, and you get the feeling that there probably were very few if any while he was growing up. In describing Hamill now, you would need to use words like class, confidence, poise and personality.

    I would recommend this movie to anyone; I can’t wait for Hamill to officially come out in the theaters so I can take some of my friends and student athletes that I coach to see it. If you look deep into this movie it is multi dimensional and will appeal to a broad spectrum of the movie going public. It was a real breath of fresh air not to see a movie that had to resort to vulgarities, sex and special effects to tell a good story. Regarding stars? 3 out of 4!

    Jim B

  2. Thanks for your comment Jim. I thought HAMILL's heart was in the right place, but ultimately the movie just didn't work for me. Glad you enjoyed it more than I did, though.


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