There’s a pervasive question repeatedly asked through “House of Hammer”: How did Hollywood’s Golden Boy seemingly turn into a pariah overnight?
Unfortunately, this three-part Discovery+ docuseries has little new to say on its subject — or the themes of power and abuse — because we’ve seen this narrative play out many times before. Hell, even just this week actor Shia LaBeouf, accused of abusive behavior by an ex-lover, embarked on a redemption tour in the hopes of reshaping his own narrative. Bad behavior from Hollywood’s It boys didn’t start or end with the “Call Me By Your Name” star.
Then again, “House of Hammer” is about a generational legacy all its own. When the actor came to prominence in 2010 with the release of David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” much was made about his connection to Los Angeles’ prominent Hammer family. As this project will remind you continuously, Armie Hammer is the great-grandson of Armand Hammer, head of Occidental Petroleum. The crux of “House of Hammer” is that, going as far back as Armand’s own father, the Hammer family is filled with criminals and abusers.
But for the repeated reminders that this is practically ingrained in the family’s DNA, the docuseries spends far more time talking about Armie than his family. And the problem is it’s only interesting from that perspective if you know absolutely nothing about Armie Hammer or his actions between 2020-2021. “House of Hammer” plays like a CliffsNotes version of far better, and more in-depth, articles by Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone that detailed the Hammer clan and Armie Hammer’s actions.
Here, audiences are treated to the standard barrage of Instagram clips and newsreels, playing like Hammer was “The Tinder Swindler” or some other Netflix doc subject. A few journalists are presented as experts, but they have just as much weight as random Instagram creators whose brands became telling the Hammer family’s story.
The biggest bombshell, hyped heavily in the trailers, is the story of Casey Hammer, Armie’s aunt and daughter of Julian Hammer. Casey Hammer’s story of allegedly seeing her father physically abuse her mother, and the Hammer family’s alleged history of excessive partying and drugs, has been told elsewhere. There’s nothing particularly revelatory about her on-camera appearance and declaration that she’s going to “blow up” the Hammer narrative, including the heavily hyped reveal in Episode 2 of sexual abuse allegations.
Too often with Discovery’s attempts to capitalize on pop-culture cases in real time, there’s a fair level of public info reporting: Creatives pull from social media and what’s already reported to guard against being sued for talking out of turn. (Similar tactics shaped the recent “Johnny Vs. Amber” on the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial.) Why watch a 3-hour docuseries when you could watch The Zen Blonde’s (a source on this doc) TikTok series instead? Nearly everything said by Hammer’s alleged victims are either from YouTube videos they posted — or, in the case of on-camera interviews with ex-girlfriend Courtney Vucekovich, are already online. The Discovery+ target audience is between 25 and 54, but this series seems to be aimed at an older audience that may be less familiar with social media.
Briefly, the doc tries to assert something new when Vucekovich recounts a dinner with Armie Hammer and his mother. An argument allegedly took place between parent and son, resulting in allegations that — played right before a scene of Casey Hammer talking about sexual abuse — implies that Armie Hammer himself might have been the victim of molestation. With the next episode, the moment is never mentioned again. It creates the impression that producers wanted to lure audiences for the finale but had no further context or proof, making the admission look like a cheap shot.
That sums up the call-and-response nature of this series. The talking heads play up “shocking” stories and how they never foresaw the horrors to come, but the hype never translates to what is actually discussed. There are interesting elements such as Armand’s father’s connections to the founding of the Communist party, or how Armand Hammer got close to Prince Charles and Princess Diana. But considering how we see the horrific exploits of rich people play out on television every day it all feels kinda… tame? That’s not to say the allegations against Armie Hammer, or the stories of Julius Hammer’s alleged abuse of his wife aren’t terrible, but the hyperbole suggests events on the level of “Eyes Wide Shut” or the Black Dahlia.
“House of Hammer” is for the person who doesn’t know much about popular culture, doesn’t spend time on social media, and watches a lot of Discovery+. It’s a Google search for people who don’t want to read a lengthy article. That’s fine. But selling it as the multigenerational story of a family with all the horrors of the Marquis de Sade is a bit of a stretch.
“House of Hammer” streams on Discovery+ September 2.