What: Film Review
Directed and Written by: Chad Hartigan
Produced by: Cherie Saultier
Starring: Paul Eenhoorn, Richmond Arquette, Robert Longstreet, Sam Buchanan, Demetrius Grosse
Running Time (in min.): 83 minutes
Winner of Best of Next! Audience Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival
This is Martin Bonner (2013)
Watching certain movies, we cannot help but think how wonderful it is to be alive just to see them. There is a sort of vindication for our love of art, entertainment, and everything in between in these instances. That bridge is gapped with apparent ease by the filmmaker and writer Chad Hartigan, who in only his second feature film (after Luke and Brie Are on a First Date) draws attention to what may be a range of gifts. It should come as no surprise, then, that his most recent, This is Martin Bonner, was awarded the Best of Next! Audience Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. How suiting.
The eponymous Bonner is played by an actor whose career is bound to jumpstart by those who witness his control of the very first frame. His name is Paul Eenhoorn, and he possesses a simple, Everyman quality that is only betrayed in performance by his natural facial symmetry and his remarkable blue eyes. Like Eenhoorn, Martin Bonner is an Australian man drifting from job to job in the hope of settling on one of them. As we meet him, his Bachelor’s Degree in Theology has left him both faithless and, until recently, jobless. Despite losing trust in the Church he spent decades working with, Bonner is back with them in Reno, Nevada, where hopeful career men go to die. But Martin Bonner refuses to do so.
With his indelible spirit (and eyes) in tow, he meets a prisoner at the nearby Nevada Correctional Facility and, as per his new job as a sort of Christian Big Brother, befriends and shadows him. Travis, brought to life with an equally stellar performance by Richmond Arquette (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Smashed), has been in jail long enough to be unfamiliar with the Internet. The first suggestions of Hartigan’s great wisdom appear in Travis’s early scenes; as he adjusts to the world, we root for him to succeed without knowing why. He has a young daughter who is now an adult, and he wants to see her. He needs a job to survive, and a place to stay. He finds these things with exactly the right amount of trial, tribulation, and help from Martin.
Hartigan’s film is a quiet character study of these two men that goes nowhere special, but that’s hardly the point. Like its closest and most remarkable relative, Thomas McCarthy’s The Visitor (2008), Hartigan’s picture wants only for its protagonists to come out ahead of the shit that life rains down upon the good. At the heart of This is Martin Bonner is a concept of the world that doesn’t gel with the real one: that no good deed goes unrewarded. But the natures of the lead character and his ward make it so that we believe something outside of our reality. Though it may be an illusion, as all films are, it is a wonderful one, filled with a warm impulse and enough intelligence and wit to know that even those reaping the rewards of their good karma must wrestle.
Arquette makes painful the struggle between Travis and his daughter (played brightly by Sam Buchanan), and our hearts nearly break in an extended scene where the two see each other for the first time in decades. Arquette, a member of the revered acting family that features David, Patricia, Alexis and Rosanna, looks a lot less like the sort of man seen in his relatives’ films. But the camera, governed patiently by D.P. Sean McElwey, finds his good points (facially, that is) and gives us his perspective once or twice. One particular shot – a 360 degree panoramic view of Reno – makes the city seem so alien that, once we return to Arquette, our empathy is sold to him permanently. Like Eenhoorn, those who see Bonner will likely ensure that its stars never have to seek out work again. The performances are simply that assured – call it this year’s Starlet.
This is Martin Bonner should be valued, as any fine film should, for the talents that it heralds; to this end, our society seems to be making progress. The film is slated to screen in Los Angeles as a part of the new Sundance festival event “Next Weekend” on the 10th and 11th of August. At the IFC Center in New York, it shows four days after its L.A. Premiere. Why Chad Hartigan’s film is not considered an “Event Film,” seems reasonable to me, and I believe it might to my readers: It has no major actors, no major producers, and no major filmmakers at the helm. It includes no Kaiju, little mood lighting, and especially no big, effortful speeches. Trust me on this one, and take those missing elements as blessings.
Editor’s Note: All images and links provided graciously by Monterey Media on behalf of This is Martin Bonner.