This is Martin Bonner

This is Martin Bonner

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Chad Hartigan's character study serves as a reminder that films don't need to contain momentous events, violence, sex or death to be interesting and compelling. His approach to this story about friendship and transition - the secular cousin of redemption - may be gentle but the end result is surprisingly affecting.

His film - which deservedly won the audience award at Sundance Film Festival and has been gathering gongs elsewhere since - is driven by the twin engines of Australian actor Paul Eenhoorn as the titular character and the equally impressive Richmond Arquette as Travis. Helped by Hartigan, who cleverly stitches in details from the actors own lives - such as a record made by Eenhorn in his youth and Arquette's high school year book photo - they slip effortlessly into their characters, inviting us to tap into their introspection and try it on for size rather than shutting us out.

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Martin is an instantly likeable sort, quietly spoken and with an easgoing charm, but this hasn't been able to save his marriage and when we meet him he has just moved to Reno to an apartment that, though small, still seems three times to big for him. There, he plans to do volunteer work as a co-ordinator with a church organisation which aims to help ex-cons reintegrate into society. Travis is also about to move to Reno, although technically he has lived on its fringes for a dozen years, serving time at his government's pleasure in the local jail for a serious drink drive offence. Reserved and with his estrangement emphasised by a series of terrible charity hand-me-down jumpers, there is still the glint of a good soul twinkling beneath the surface.

Both men seem to have shrunk back from their circumstances, still the people they were but also lost in the familiar. Hartigan is interested in complexity, bringing a thoughtfulness to both of them. Even as Martin has a surface level of ease and a strong phone relationship with his daughter back east, this is offset by a more inner thoughtfulness as he struggles to re-establish and form new relationships, both through tentative answer messages left for his uncommunicative son and attempts at speed dating. The sight of him selling low grade antiques on eBay, freshly bought and immediately bundled, also smacks of a transience that his engaging personality belies. Travis, meanwhile, is grappling with a sense of guilt that goes well beyond the crime he committed to the affect it has had on others in his life.

Initially, Travis is assigned to a Christian mentor (Robert Longstreet), who in a break from the cliched polar portrayals of Christianity in film - either wholly saints or sinners - is refreshingly normal. He and Travis simply just don't click, whereas Martin and he are simply on the same wavelength. And so, a friendship is born and examined, along with ideas of responsibility and embracing the possibility of change. Hartigan is an unfussy director, who has no interest in galloping through a scene.

Sean McElwee’s camera drinks in the Americana of Reno, its industrial pockets and dusty roads exemplified by one beautiful 360 degree point of view shot as we consider the place as Travis does, outsiders looking in. Hartigan also handles his smaller characters admirably - you could be forgiven for thinking that a con in the first scene of the movie would become one of its lynchpins, such is the powerful turn put in by Demetrius Gross, and Sam Buchanan's portrayal of Travis's daughter also carries an emotional weight despite limited screen time. This Is Martin Bonner is undoubtedly a small film but it is finely crafted and has a big heart.

Reviewed on: 17 Jun 2013
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Two men embark on an unlikely friendship.

Director: Chad Hartigan

Writer: Chad Hartigan

Starring: Paul Eenhoorn, Richmond Arquette, Sam Buchanan, Robert Longstreet, Demetrius Gross

Year: 2013

Country: US


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