SXSW Review: Bag Of Hammers

Friday, March 18 by

Film festivals have made me really sensitive to first time features. If a first time director on a truly low budget can make a film that holds your interest, that’s a victory. If Martin Scorsese made A Bag of Hammers it would be a disappointment, but director Brian Crano made a movie that holds up with Hollywood fare, so if his next idea is more ambitious he could have the chops.

Ben (Jason Ritter) and Alan (Jake Sandvig) steal cars by posing as complimentary valets. Warning, if your funeral offers free valet service, don’t trust them. Alan’s sister Melanie (Rebecca Hall) wants the boys to get real jobs but really, waiting tables can’t compete with stealing cars.

They rent their side apartment to Lynette who moves in with Kelsey (Chandler Canterbury), and it’s clear she’s neglecting him. Lynette tries to get work but employment agencies won’t place her with limited skills. So when she leaves Kelsey alone, Alan wants to take care of him. That’s his conflict with Ben.

So Bag of Hammers tells a story with a beginning, middle and end. Alan and Ben have a lifestyle, something shakes it up, and they resolve it. I don’t think the story of car thieves taking care of a kid is going to to the box office, but people will see it, they’ll like it, they’ll move on, but the film can play.

Sandvig, who also co-wrote the script, keeps things light with his one-liners. They may not be quotable to college stoners, but they’re entertaining. Ben’s conflicted attempts to become a purse snatcher are pretty funny.

The dramatic moments are powerful. When Ben breaks the news to Kelsey, Ritter’s performance is sincere. They never play the heartwarming child card so it’s not obnoxious. Ben, Melanie, Alan and Kelsey all have some traumatic stories to tell.

Shot on the Red camera, the picture totally holds up. On a big screen, it looks like a Blu-ray. It’s clear, it’s sharp. That goes a long way toward making it look like a real movie. Obviously they had a bit more money than the shoestring indies who make do with consumer models, but Crano uses the frame well.

When picking a movie to see, whether on a film festival schedule or at a multiplex or on demand menu, A Bag of Hammers is a good choice. I knew two of the leads before so that makes it comfortable, and it’s well done so not a bad discovery.

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