This Is Martin Bonner
One of the paradoxes of our age is that we are a society in crisis--reflected, for example, in grand-scale unemployment/underemployment and the consequent spike in suicide rates among middle-age men--and yet the society itself tends to deflect existential or faith crises with blasé snark, tabloid sensationalism or a quick channel change. Chad Hartigan's new film "This Is Martin Bonner" is a masterpiece that goes against this complacent stream with the subtlety and heart of great poetry as it tracks two men's attempts to rise out of their own ashes, though neither seeks to soar, but rather to just get themselves steady and upright on dry land.
Martin Bonner (Paul Eenhoorn) is a fifty-plus, Australian expat who used to work as a manager in a Maryland church. He now finds himself living in Reno, Nevada, where he's taken a job as a volunteer coordinator for a Methodist church's outreach program for prisoners seeking to reform and reenter mainstream life. Martin lost his faith years ago, which led him to a divorce and getting fired from his church job on account of his divorce and later to bankruptcy, which led him back into church work, the only work he can still get at his age. His everyday life is as dour as his spare-beyond-spare bachelor pad but at least he has a daughter who happily takes his calls, unlike his east-coast artist son who never calls back.
Through his work, Martin meets Travis (Richmond Arquette) who's just been released from the penitentiary after serving 12 years for drunk-driving-related manslaughter. Although Travis is not Martin's client, Travis finds his own coordinator too religious to talk to, so he comes to depend on Martin as they both set to work on rebuilding their own individual lives. When Travis snookers Martin into playing facilitator after his estranged daughter (Sam Buchanan) agrees to meet up with him at a chain restaurant, the friendship goes on ice, but for how long?
Hartigan's penetrating treatment of slow-moving scenes makes his understated movie anything but tedious. More than a performance, blue-eyed Eenhoorn embodies Martin's silent struggle and Arquette bears all the marks of a man who has taken his lumps and reemerged into the world with bewildered eyes and a heart unsure. You know you've seen a great movie when its subtleties cling to you long after the final credits run, and "This Is Martin Bonner" brims with these subtleties.
"This Is Martin Bonner"
Releases August 20 on iTunes, Xbox, Playstation, Amazon, Vudu, Netflix, Cable on Demand, and DVD (through Monterey Media).