Chad Hartigan’s This is Martin Bonner is a refreshing example of stark realism, minus the grit and melodrama that tends to muddy films of its ilk.
Martin Bonner (Paul Eenhoorn) is a somewhat nerdy, middle-aged mentor to inmates transitioning from a Reno prison. Divorced, bankrupt and basically unhinged from life, Bonner’s new job is his first in years.
Not uncommonly, the prison-program for which Bonner works has a strong religious foundation, and is offered to inmates shortly before their release. While not the ideal situation for everyone, Travis Holloway (Richmond Arquette) agrees to enroll in the program, and is assigned to a mentor whom he describes as very Christian. It is on the day, that Holloway’s mentor is unavailable, that he meets Martin Bonner, and the two form a surprising bond that changes both their lives.
This is Martin Bonner is not by any means a movie exuding adventure, romance, violence, or any of the things that draw off the charts box office appeal. In many ways, the film may be compared to Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David’s Seinfeld— a story about nothing in particular. What This is Martin Bonner does accomplish is to very adeptly expose human beings to the roots that define them, while maintaining remnants of humor.
What’s interesting, and key about Hartigan’s film, is that its extreme strength lies in its minimalism and fine details. It is here where actors Paul Eenhoorn and Richmond Arquette bring to life characters Martin Bonner and Travis Holloway, in the most believable way imaginable, without scaring viewers away. This in itself is a fine art and not the least bit easy.
Possibly the only flaw in Hartigan’s uniquely interesting movie, is that it seems to drag a bit at the very beginning. However, once viewers ride out this “problem,” they’ll soon notice that slowness determines character, and is actually a crucial tool of filmmaking in this particular instance.