Review: Oren Kaplan's 'Hamill' is a Novel and Inspirational Biopic
by Jeremy Kirk
February 25, 2011
Inspiration is the gift Matt Hamill has had fighting alongside him since birth. Born deaf, Hamill has risen to great success in the world of mixed martial arts, achieving heights few thought possible in UFC rankings. Before that, though, he became a three-time NCAA champion in amateur wrestling while attending RIT in Rochester. This is the story told in Oren Kaplan's film. Simply entitled Hamill, it tells the powerful and invigorating story of young Matt Hamill's struggles with his disability and the people in his life who have kept him motivated to overcome this major obstacle. Hamill is a film that emboldens its audience, often in inventive and novel ways, and it never allows itself to fall into the misguided trappings such biopics tend to incorporate.
At the heart of Kaplan's film, screenplay written by Joseph McKelheer and Eben Kostbar, is the relationship Hamill had with his grandfather, Stanley. The two roles are filled by incredibly strong performances by actors Russell Harvard and Raymond J. Barry, respectively, and the connection between the two is a backbone the rest of the film is able to build itself around. Stanley doesn't coddle Matt. He doesn't see Matt's disability as a means to feel sorry for the boy, and he instills in Matt a sensibility to be the absolute best you can be regardless of the hands you are dealt in life.
Harvard and Barry have a genuine connection in the film. The solidity with which they act against each other allows the audience to become enraptured in Stanley's teachings, to feel the power of what Matt is attempting to achieve. This comes both from Barry's veteran and fantastic stature in the film-making world as well as Harvard's embodiment of the character at hand. Harvard, like Hamill, was born deaf, but its more than just a first-hand understanding he brings to the character. He brings a wonderful veracity to Matt Hamill as a character.
As easily hackneyed or cliched as the grandfather relationship could be conveyed, McKelheer, Kostbar and Kaplan never allow it to follow that path. There's an honesty at play in Hamill and in the characters that inhabit it. There's a real sense of triumph when Matt attains success, even the slightest bit whether it comes in the form of winning matches or winning the heart of a fellow RIT student, Kristi, played with force by Shoshannah Stern. You want Hamill to find this success, but not out of pity, never out of pity. You want him to win out of the grace and humility that has been sown into him through his grandfather. When he does indeed win, your heart can't help but find itself being lifted.
This isn't to say Hamill is sappy or a nonstop climb upward to inevitable wins. There are peaks and valleys in the life of Matt Hamill, some of which were brought on by the individual himself. Even with his grandfather's guidance, Hamill becomes frustrated at times, loses himself in mulish behavior that results in periodic setbacks both minor and major. Stanley, Kristi, and the others in his life - Jay, a rather militant roommate who is just as much flash as he is felicity, played by Michael Anthony Spady; and Ron Gross, Hamill's college coach, played with explosive ardor by McKelheer himself - bounce Hamill back into reality. They don't allow the young man to feel sorry for himself, nor do they repress disappointment in him when such a feeling arises.
All the while, Kaplan directs Hamill with nuance and impeccable style, giving us a depiction of the life of a deaf person just as much as the life of a fighter struggling with all the deterrents that come from that. One thing Kaplan includes in Hamill that is a stroke of genius is the notion of including subtitles throughout the film. It both aids in the audience's ability to enter this world that is alien to many of us and conveys unique messages to its audience in a very novel and effective way.
Hamill is a film that takes an appropriate stand for the real individual, a strong and highly inspirational work of fact told in the freshest and impactful of ways. Biopics are easy territory to stamp over familiar ground with, to trek down the same road so many have done before. It's always encouraging to see one take such a unaccustomed approach to depict its subject matter, but to do so in equally powerful, poignant, and uplifting ways is what makes Hamill the film as much a triumph as Hamill the man. For more information on the film, visit their website: hamillthemovie.com. Hamill is currently playing in various film festivals.
Jeremy's Rating: 9 out of 10