A man is quietly entering the arena, full of non-stop screaming fans. The man seems to be paying no attention to them, as he walks down to the ring, with a Terminator look on his face.
He’s about to become the part of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Before he enters the cage, he turns and looks around… A long way he has come, and we get a chance to look back to see how Matt Hamill became the first ever deaf wrestler to win a National Collegiate Wrestling Championship, which later led to him entering the UFC.
“The Hammer” – a sports drama – is based on a true story of Matt Hamill’s life. In the film he’s played by a real-life deaf actor Russell Harvard.
First however, Hamill was supposed to be played by Eben Kostbar, whom Hamill himself supported because Kostbar’s wrestling experience and the fact that Eben is fluent in American Sign Language.
Yet, the deaf community was strongly against Kostbar, wanting a member of the deaf community to play the part. Eventually, that’s what happened. Kostbar yet still appears in the film as a wrestling coach’s assistant.
In fact almost all of the leading characters in the film are portrayed by real-life deaf actors (Russell Harvard, Shoshannah Stern, Michael Anthony Spady), except for Raymond J. Barry and a few others.
Speaking of Barry, who is a great actor, really shines in the film as Hamill’s grandfather, who pretty much saves Matt’s life by pushing him forward towards his goals, never letting the youngster to give up.
In real life, Hamill was introduced to wrestling by his step father who was a wrestling coach at Loveland High School. Hamill attended the Rochester Institute of Technology for 3 years transferring there after a year at Purdue.
The film takes us back to Hamill’s tough childhood, then through high school, and right to the university where he was already an accomplished wrestler.
Sadly, the film never really gets into the details of wrestling, explaining how Hamill became one of the best wrestlers around. Yet again, the movie is not a wrestling documentary but a story of one man’s journey.
Russell Harvard, the actor who played Matt Hamill in his 2011 interview revealed a few details about his part in the film. In the interview, Harvard admits that he was first supposed to play another character, when the producers asked him to play Hamill instead.
Therefore instead having a year to train and prepare for the part, Harvard only had about 2 months. This might explain the lack of wrestling details in the finished film.
While watching the film I learned a little about the deaf people, as the film tries to show how the deaf community deals with its members.
It seems like these people have their own world, and they don’t seem to be infringed by the majority of normal people. Having no such people around me in real life, it was interesting to see how they behave, at least in the film.
Director of the film Oren Kaplan has mostly done only TV work both before, and after “The Hammer”, and yet this sports drama remains his biggest achievement – the film received, according to IMDB, seven various awards at film festivals.
The heartbreaking story of Matt Hamill ends when he goes on to compete in the UFC. In real life, Hamill spent six years there, from 2005 to 2011, retiring at the age of 35, with a record of 10 wins and 4 losses.
So, if you like dramas, give “The Hammer” a look. If you like sports dramas, then you can still give it a look, just don’t start watching it, expecting the wrestling version of “Raging Bull”. Overall, a very good movie that probably deserved all those 7 awards it has won.
BZFILM SCALE: 7/10
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