Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
Although devoted to Armie Hammer and his family, the title “House of Hammer” evokes thoughts of British horror films released under the Hammer label from the 1950s to the ’70s, which doesn’t feel coincidental. That’s because this three-part Discovery+ docuseries is unfortunately presented as if it were a horror movie, with all its trappings, as it seeks to connect the scandal-plagued actor to the wealthy dynasty from which he came. (Discovery+, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.)
Hammer has been under investigation for sexual assault since 2021, after a woman accused him of rape. He has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing, at the time saying through his attorney that the allegation, stemming from an alleged 2017 encounter, was “outrageous” and said his interactions with the woman and other partners have been “completely consensual, discussed and agreed upon in advance.”
A spokesman for the LA County District Attorney’s Office told CNN Thursday that the case remains under investigation. “A specially assigned prosecutor is working with law enforcement as they continue their investigation,” he said, adding that the evidence will be evaluated once it is submitted.
Amid the publicity surrounding the rape allegation and the release of private Instagram DMs, the actor subsequently withdrew from film and TV projects, including “Shotgun Wedding,” a movie with Jennifer Lopez; and a streaming series, “The Offer,” based on the making of the movie “The Godfather.”
In announcing his exit from the former, Hammer issued a statement calling the “online attacks” against him “vicious and spurious.”
CNN has reached out to a representative of Hammer for comment on the series, which notes that Hammer declined to be interviewed.
“House of Hammer” spends most of its first chapter laying out the allegations against Hammer, including interviews with two women, Courtney Vucekovich and Julia Morrison, regarding their relationships with him.
Yet “House of Hammer” goes well beyond that part of the story, expanding to encompass the “dark misdeeds,” as Hammer’s aunt Casey Hammer puts it, associated with other members of the Hammer family, dating back to patriarch Armand Hammer, the billionaire oil tycoon.
It’s there where the series frequently feels as if it’s significantly overreaching, not only in its stylistic choices — with eerie music and cameras panning down darkened hallways — but by seemingly attempting to paint the Hammers’ alleged behavior through the years as something more than excesses associated with power and privilege, but almost some sort of inherited evil.
Casey Hammer thus becomes a centerpiece of the docuseries, having written a book, “Surviving My Birthright,” alleging abusive or unsavory behavior associated with men in her family. Toward the end of the docuseries, she meets with Vucekovich, commending her for the courage to speak out, amid representations of the social-media abuse that she and others have experienced for doing so.
“House of Hammer” clearly has a story to tell, but its salacious approach lacks the focus or discipline to do its most intriguing aspects justice.
Specifically, there’s a case to be made that Hammer family members have used their wealth, and the political power associated with it, to avoid consequences. The depth of those connections are reinforced by footage of Armand Hammer hobnobbing with presidents, appearing on talk shows and rubbing elbows with high society, having hosted a private Palm Beach event with Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1985, five years before his death.
Still, trying to directly link various alleged transgressions across generations risks being problematic. Directors Elli Hakami and Julian P. Hobbs nevertheless keep returning to that theme, as well as more contemporary questions surrounding the “Call Me By Your Name” star and whether his career can recover going forward.
While questions surrounding Armie Hammer remain understandable sources of media fascination and attention, the extent to which those issues can be traced to his family history serves as a trickier proposition. Perhaps that’s why it feels like Discovery+ has built “House of Hammer” on a rickety foundation.
“House of Hammer” premieres September 2 on Discovery+.
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