Some films pack in plenty of whatever their respective genres call for. Action movies pack in the fights, comedies pack in the chuckles, etc. Some films, on the other hand, simply serve as a chance to meet some interesting characters. There doesn’t need to be any big journey, although there often IS a journey, and it’s sometimes good enough just to meet these new, fictional people and become engrossed in their lives for a while. Sometimes. There are times when movies go for such an approach and turn out to be quite horrible to watch. Thankfully, This Is Martin Bonner is one of the good ones.
Writer-director Chad Hartigan has created something very sweet, without making it too schmaltzy. He walks a thin line, and I’m sure that a few people will disagree with my opinion, but he gets it just right, helped in no small part by two great central performances from Paul Eenhoorn and Richmond Arquette.
The basic story is all about, funnily enough, Martin Bonner (Eenhorn). Martin is a divorced man who is now learning a job in which he tries to help convicted criminals to make the transition from prison life back to life in the outside world. Despite being “the new guy”, Martin makes a very good first impression of the recently released Travis (Arquette). Travis has a mentor already assigned to him, Steve Helms (played by Robert Longstreet), but he doesn’t feel quite as relaxed in front of Helms, due to the strong Christian beliefs held by the man. From this starting point, Martin and Travis develop a friendship and the two seem to bring out the best in one another.
This Is Martin Bonner works as well as it does for two reasons. First, Martin and Travis are such great characters. Martin may be a good guy, but he’s not painted as someone who is perfect or thinks himself above others. Travis may also be a good guy, but has a lot of baggage to carry around in life until he deals with enough of his history to start letting some of it go. Part of that process is shown in an important meeting with his daughter (played by Sam Buchanan), a sequence that the whole movie rightly treats as a centrepiece for a number of reasons.
Second? From the writing to the acting from the two leads to the unfussy direction, everything about the movie has an air of authenticity to it. That’s probably to do with Hartigan writing about what he knows (his father was in a very similiar situation to Martin Bonner) and dedicating himself to perfecting his work at all costs – he moved to Reno, leaving behind a job and apartment, to write the script and immerse himself in the film that he was creating.
Hartigan deserves a lot of praise. Eenhoorn, Arquette, Buchanan and Longstreet deserve a lot of praise. This gem of a movie deserves a lot of praise. Give it a watch when you get the chance.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: CHAD HARTIGAN
STARS: PAUL EENHOORN, RICHMOND ARQUETTE, SAM BUCHANAN, ROBERT LONGSTREET, JAN HALEY
RUNTIME: 83 MINS APPROX