This Is Martin Bonner
Directed by Chad Hartigan
Two men, at opposite ends of the social spectrum, find themselves starting new lives in the same, small town and form an unlikely friendship.
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★★★★ review by DirkH on Letterboxd
What an absolutely wonderful way to spend some time.
As far as slice of life films go, they don't get much more sincere and austere than This is Martin Bonner. We enter the lives of two men who are at similar stages in their lives for completely different reasons. For a short while we see the beginnings of a friendship between two guys who only share a common desire for a new start.
The amazing thing about this film is that hardly anything really happens, yet it is utterly captivating. It doesn't really delve into deep themes or thought provoking ideas. It just relates interpersonal communication between real people, with real problems and real desires. No frills, no sentimentality just life. And I loved it.
It has a lot to do with the restrained direction and the impressively natural acting abilities of the two leads. They give life to middle age and the problems and concerns that come with it without laying it on thick and with an enormous amount of credibility and charm.
This film is criminally underseen and his highly recommended to people who enjoy a spartan approach to filmmaking and appreciate toned down acting and sincere storytelling.
★★★★ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd
Writer/Director Chad Hartigan's take on middle-aged life is one of best kept secrets of 2013. It has barely made a splash outside of the festival circuit despite near universal critical acclaim which it manages to warrant. The film is centred around two men standing at a similar crossroads in their life who strike up an unlikely friendship that feels completely genuine, thanks to a straight forward script delivered superbly by its two leads.
We meet the understated but charismatic Martin Bonner (Paul Eenhoorn) attempting to persuade a convict to sign-up for the Christian out-reach programme he works for. He is only a month into his time in Reno having moved from Maryland after securing the job. Martin lives alone and busies himself at local auctions outside of work, keeping close to his grown-up kids almost daily on the phone. He has a strong relationship with his daughter, less-so with his artist son.
Travis (Richmond Arquette) is just out of prison having completed his 12 year sentence for manslaughter. He starts out living in road-side motel, lucky enough to secure a job as a parking lot attendant. There is the chance to re-connect with his 24-year old daughter who he last saw when she was half that age. The mentors he has working with him to integrate back into a stable life may just show him enough positives to make sure he can get back onto his feet again.
Both of these guys have a familiar, welcoming look that makes it very easy to settle into their lives. They are both approaching a fresh start late on, coming to terms with the isolation that comes with it and the past they have left behind. The warm friendly nature of their performances is built from a script that lingers on a fear of failing again when the opportunities for redemption are harder to come by. But there is no bitterness - there is no time left for that - more a hope that things will work out for the best this time round.
Shot in only 16 days on a micro-budget of $42k Chad Hartigan has concentrated on the fundamentals to produce maximum impact. The usual 'indie' tropes are well and truly avoided which makes this feel like an experience of real people dealing with real life. Whatever your age there is something to relate to regardless of the actual subject matter. These guys are three-dimensional, with hopes and fears like me and you, doing what they can to make life a success.
If there is one complaint to be made then the modest run time of only 83 minutes would bear that brunt. More often than not we judge that films need to trim some calories here and there, so it makes a change to ask for more. Which really says it all about the story of Martin and Travis. You are not left with any gaps in understanding their relationship but, perhaps selfishly, want to stick around and see just where life takes them.
★★★★½ review by Rod Sedgwick on Letterboxd
Sometimes you have to lose your life in order to find it
I cannot believe I am still discovering gems from 2013, and being that this is the 120th release from that year I have now seen, I was sure I was scraping the bottom of the barrel where unseen films like The Lone Ranger, Carrie and Thor 2 reside. Essentially an existential mood piece specifically about two characters trying to find their mojo after significant life changing events; the titular Martin Bonner (Paul Eenhoorn - the best damn Aussie actor I have NEVER seen) trying to rebuild his life after a divorce in the wake of a crisis of faith has relocated him to Reno, Nevada, and Travis Holloway (Richmond Arquette - another of the famed and endless acting clan), who has just been released from a 12 year prison sentence and is in need of rehabilitation during the transition back into society. Martin is a volunteer at a religious organisation (although he ironically has lost his faith) and is drawn to the equally lost soul in Travis and the subtly blossoming friendship between them becomes the films soul. Whilst some may crave more from the narrative than the meditative melancholy malaise that is the focus, I found this to be a truly engrossing on all levels, being beautifully composed and photographed with absorbing and nuanced characters. If I was to compare this to any other filmmakers work it would be Alexander Payne but with less humour. Chad Hartigan, I have my eyes on you sir.
★★★★ review by Matt Singer on Letterboxd
When you type the phrase "less is more" into Google, this movie's IMDb page should be the first result.
Full review coming to Filmspotting: SVU.
★★★★ review by Gui (FKA William Tell) on Letterboxd
This is Martin Bonner is definitely one of the most surprising and engrossing hidden gems of 2013. Written and directed by newcomer Chad Hartigan, it is a reflective and calm slice-of-life story focused on the unlikely friendship between two men in similar situations of their lives, but who got there from absolutely opposite circumstances.
On one hand, a serene and helpful man, who cares for his family, works honestly and lives by Christian principles. Yet he is also unsociable, had a crisis of faith, lost his job and had a rock band when he was young. This is Martin Bonner. On the other hand, a remorseful and quiet man, who recently left prison and is integrating a social program, which Martin is in charge of. He also tries to reconnect with his daughter and inquires about life to his mentors. This is Travis Holloway. They are both quite complex and realistic characters, whom we end up caring for by the end, but who we wish, selfishly or not, to see much more of. That is partly due to the richness and nuances of the script and the frankly natural performances, but also because of the film’s tight runtime which leaves us wanting for the characters to be much more fleshed-out.
But as we watch these two men build their life from scratch and help each other along the way, it is impressive to see how credible and earnest the film becomes. Through a mix of formally static close-up shots to full 360º degrees rotations, This is Martin Bonner is exquisitely photographed to seem authentic; and the oddly soothing fusion of electronic sounds and orchestral undercurrents form a beautifully eclectic audiovisual design. Isn’t it always just a pleasure to see the new voices of cinema make such an independent yet remarkable statement?
So we have a sincere testament put on film, perfectly paced between the director’s sense of character, image and sound, and a perfect example of how less is more. It is so simply built and affective, we wonder how much of it could be called This is Chad Hartigan.
Overall Rating: ★★★★
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