“This Is Martin Bonner” is a film for people who love well-told short stories and poetry that hits its mark. It is a film for people who want to be invested in the characters on the screen, not just blown away by or blown up with them.
Writer/director Chad Hartigan has made a non-action movie about two men in their middle years who, for different reasons, are starting all over. No jobs. No wives. Distant children. No old lives.
Martin Bonner is resettling in Reno, Nev., but for a long time we don’t know why. We later learn he lost his job with a church and had to declare bankruptcy.
Hartigan does some effective storytelling as Martin gives his new address at a store counter while the camera pans the empty, anonymous apartment the address belongs to.
Our first encounter, though, is with Martin and his “trainer” doing volunteer prison outreach with a seasoned inmate who confronts their offer of help with a “What’s in it for me?,” asked in the negative.
That fellow doesn’t work out for Martin, but another one, Travis, is different. He isn’t a hardened criminal. He is a man who made one very bad mistake and paid the price.
We meet Travis as he leaves a Nevada correctional facility. His mentor couldn’t make it, so Martin picks him up.
By such accidents of fate, friendships are made.
“This Is Martin Bonner,” opening Friday in the Screening Room (3131 Sheridan Drive, Amherst), is remarkable in the way it decides not to manipulate its audience. Like most of life, this is a movie of small victories over the hard situations in which people find themselves, especially people who aren’t perfect.
Paul Eenhorn is exceptional as Martin, an Americanized Aussie who never feels sorry for himself, and who knows that he won’t move forward if he keeps looking back. He has a good long-distance relationship by phone with his adult daughter and a not-so-good one with his artistic son. He’s practical and not afraid to feel a little lonely.
Richmond Arquette has moved into Travis’ role as a tentative loser and made himself at home. Travis has been in prison 12 years and has never been to Reno proper until the gates spit him out into it. Looking at it from the bottom, he finds an unwelcoming city of highways and hookers, filled with people who are all from somewhere else.
But he wants to move on. Travis appreciates the help of his ultra-Christian mentor, Scott, but later admits to Martin that Scott’s certain faith makes him “feel like a fraud.”
Conflicted feelings of faith are one of the first things that bring the men together, with Travis, confused, saying, “I feel like it should be nothing or everything.”
Martin has a more nuanced view, and they take it from there.
And then, for a short hour and a half, through spots of humor and hurt, Martin and Travis gradually find their footing.
That’s what “Martin Bonner” is about. He is a man worth meeting.
this is martin bonner
Starring: Richmond Arquette and Paul Eenhorn
Director: Chad Hartigan
Running time: 83 minutes
Rating: Not rated, but R equivalent for language and brief sexual content.
The Lowdown: Two middle-aged men, starting over as newcomers to Reno, Nev., find they have more in common than they would expect.