'How Heavy This Hammer': Film Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

An aggressively dreary look at a man who shouldn't have had a family.

A depressed family man tries to hit reset.

Kazik Radwanski, whose 2012 Tower attracted some attention at fests, returns with another dishwater-dull hero in How Heavy This Hammer, about a family man who can't muster the enthusiasm to participate in family life. Shot almost entirely in close-ups, the pic burrows into a style as oppressively confining as its subject's view of marriage. But aesthetic coherence only goes so far in this miserablist portrait, which may earn some respect at fests but has little hope commercially.

Erwin Van Cotthem plays Erwin, a Hitchcock-shaped lug we meet as he stares expressionless at his computer, playing a crude Viking warfare game as his wife (Kate Ashley) tends to two sons in the next room. An aria on the soundtrack (which will return in subsequent lonely gaming scenes) is the film's main note of irony, its operatic drama pointing out the obvious lack of heroism on screen. As his wife calls repeatedly to tell him she's done fixing dinner, that everyone's at the table, that it's getting cold, he reluctantly mutters "I'll be there in five."

Ashley makes for a remarkably patient wife, gently probing Erwin about the depressive funk he's clearly in and looking for ways to help. He has no patience for it: "I don't wanna talk about it anymore, okay?" he says after perhaps two sentences have been exchanged.

Radwanski skips over whatever decisionmaking process follows, but soon Erwin has moved out of the house, holing up in an apartment adjoining a bar and showing some signs of enjoying life. He's a more engaged parent as a part-timer, which is not to say he's a dad you'd want for your kids. And he tries his hand at internet dating, lavishing his entire reserves of charm on a woman less appealing than his wife.

But this is not How Erwin Got His Groove Back, and we hardly need to be told that any signs of growth will be transient or illusory. Van Cotthem's performance is wholly convincing, which might not be something to brag about, and the film flatlines right along with him.

Production company: Medium Density Fibreboard Films

Cast: Erwin Van Cotthem, Kate Ashley, Seth Kirsh, Andrew Latter

Director-Screenwriter: Kazik Radwanski

Producers: Dan Montgomery, Kazik Radwanski

Director of photography: Nikolay Michaylov

Editor: Ajla Odobašic


No rating, 73 minutes