There’s a new Armie Hammer movie out this week, “Crisis.”
No, no, the movie’s called “Crisis.” Although you’re forgiven for thinking the title refers to the actor’s career.
What happens when a celebrity name turns toxic? When an above-the-title star becomes such a liability that he becomes a negative draw? Trailers for the opioid epidemic thriller, arriving in theaters Feb. 26 and directed by Nicholas Jarecki (“Arbitrage”), were already in the can when news of Hammer’s alleged cannibalistic rape fantasies and mistreatment of women surfaced on social media in mid-January. And as one-third of a high-profile cast that also includes Gary Oldman and Evangeline Lilly, Hammer’s hard to Photoshop out of the posters.
Still, PR e-mails to the press promoting “Crisis” have left Hammer’s name out of the subject line, and when Lilly posted about the film on Instagram, her comments (“proud to be in this poster with #GaryOldman”) pointedly omitted her other costar. You can’t get Armie Hammer out of the movie, but you can certainly not mention that he’s there.
The movie itself is a watchable but formulaic multi-character drama in the style of the 2000 Oscar-winner “Traffic,” and Hammer gives one of his least ironic, most hangdog performances as an undercover narcotics agent juggling multiple agendas. Will the curiosity factor get audiences to see “Crisis,” in theaters or on VOD, or will they shrink in revulsion from an actor who one ex-girlfriend claims carved his initial next to her vagina with a knife, who another has said talked about his desire to barbecue and eat her, and who purportedly texted a third that he “wanted to cut off one of your toes and keep it with me in my pocket”?
The fallout from these and other lurid details spilling out in Page Six interviews and on the anonymous Instagram site houseofeffie was swift. Hammer stepped down from (or was asked to leave) the upcoming Jennifer Lopez romcom “Shotgun Wedding” and two TV series, Paramount+’s “The Offer” and the Starz Watergate drama “Gaslit.” He was dropped by his agency WME and by his publicist. Hammer, who is currently fighting in court for joint custody of his two children with TV personality Elizabeth Chambers, has angrily responded to the allegations as “vicious and spurious online attacks.”
The public generally reacts to celebrity scandals according to how well they reflect an already established public persona. And, crucially, men are allowed to get away with far worse behavior than female celebrities. Devil-may-care Hugh Grant is caught with a prostitute, does a winking apology tour, and adds “bad boy” to his portfolio, while winsome Winona Ryder is caught shoplifting and has to wait 15 years before being welcomed back into the public’s good graces with “Stranger Things.”
It’s a thread that runs through Hollywood history: Ethereal Ingrid Bergman was denounced on the floor of the US Senate for having a child out of wedlock with director Roberto Rossellini. Teen sweetheart Lindsay Lohan became unemployable after too many parties and rehab stints. By contrast, dashing Errol Flynn danced away from a trial for statutory rape a bigger star than ever. Roman Polanski has directed a dozen films since being convicted of drugging and sodomizing a 13-year-old girl.
Still, some crimes are hard to forgive even for a culture and an industry rife with misogyny: Drugging and raping multiple women (Bill Cosby), say, or being caught with child pornography (actor Jeffrey Jones, Subway spokesman Jared Fogle). And in the #MeToo era, when media outlets are finally listening to women’s harrowing experiences and when social media gives victims a platform and a voice they never had before, it’s harder to buy off exposés with threats of lawsuits like in the old days. It took decades to get Cosby and Harvey Weinstein behind bars, but it happened.
Now when singer FKA twigs details the brutal behavior of ex-boyfriend Shia LaBeouf or actress Evan Rachel Wood goes public with years of abuse at the hands of singer Marilyn Manson, public and industry sentiment is far more quickly on their side. (Manson has since been dropped by CAA and that agency has put LaBeouf on hiatus.)
The tabloid gruesomeness of the Armie Hammer allegations aside, a good portion of the outrage has come from the actor allegedly pushing his fetish fantasies on unwilling victims — the belief being that you can keep your cannibal sex role-play so long as it’s consensual, which this was not. Says Anne Helen Petersen, a writer on celebrity persona whose 2017 Buzzfeed article “Ten Long Years of Trying to Make Armie Hammer Happen” parsed the actor’s career and infuriated his fans, “In a different scenario, he could have allowed [his kinks] to become part of the understanding of him. I think the scandalous part is two-part. One, he didn’t own the narrative himself, in terms of how it emerged. And the more serious and important part is that it emerged through the framework of abuse.”
Kink-shaming or righteous condemnation of multiple violations of consent, it will be impossible to look at “Call Me By Your Name” or “The Lone Ranger” the same again, if at all. And what of the two Hammer movies finished but unreleased, Kenneth Branagh’s “Death on the Nile” and the World Cup drama “Next Goal Wins” from “Jojo Rabbit” director Taika Waititi?
It’s unlikely the producers will be able to pull an “All the Money in the World” scenario, when they reshot the disgraced Kevin Spacey’s scenes with Christopher Plummer. Instead, they’ll have to go out into the world with an actor no one is interested in seeing and take their chances. Will he ever come back? It’s Hollywood, he’s handsome and male and white. Mel Gibson is still making movies, even if you’re not watching them. But for the time being, just about everyone agrees that it’s time to drop the Hammer.