Paul Eenhoorn, Richmond Arquette, Sam Buchanan, Robert Longstreet and Demetrius Grosse
In order to live life fully, one has to make most of every little moment they get to have. You don't have to go all out to find happiness and peace. This is Martin Bonner was one of my most delightful film viewing experiences last year and it has in some way stayed with me ever since. What mostly big and buzzed films don't have can be found in the more smaller films released every year but not noticed enough. I decided to watch this film based on a fellow blogger's enthusiastic review. Directed and written by Chad Hartigan, This is Martin Bonner was winner of the Audience Award for Best of NEXT at Sundance Film Festival last year. It has since been so under the radar and under-seen, this is the kind of film that people need to see more often. It is not just about supporting smaller indie films or new talents but making an effort to support good work no matter where it comes from. This is also the kind of film that gives the audience themselves, a sense of pure bliss. It takes its time, slowly turning what seems a typical setting and character arc into a purely spiritual experience. At the center of this film you have two characters, different in some ways, similar in others. Martin Bonner (Eenhoorn) and Travis Holloway (Arquette). Leaving behind his two adult children and a life he has lived and built up since forever, Bonner moves to Nevada. He now works as a volunteer coordinator for a non-profit organization that helps prisoners in their transition after they are released. Bonner has been bankrupt for a while and obviously misses the times gone. On the other hand, Holloway is a prisoner released after twelve years. He faces difficulty as well in continuing his life having just been released with nothing in his pockets and an unforeseen future.
This is Martin Bonner is a film about the crossroads in lives where we meet new people and leave a few behind. A familiar life left for something new. The transition that hurts and is very difficult. A tale of redemption unlike many, it achieves a sort of tranquility that is rare. No maudlin melodrama or forced plotting can be found here. It is the kind of film that immediately gets you sucked into what it's trying to make you feel or tell. The characters no matter how expressive or otherwise they are in a given moment, makes you feel the emotions without trying much. Chad Hartigan has made a gem that is rewarding in many ways. In the beginning, the film seems to be a character piece on the titular character. Focusing solely on Martin Bonner, evoking within us the same sense of isolation and internal crisis that he feels. His character grows on you slowly, his mindset and feelings clearer and apparent as the film goes along. When Travis Holloway enters the picture, the film somehow becomes about him. By the end, you have lived Bonner through Holloway and vice versa. Such a refreshing storytelling in this film, mood piece and character study of the best kind. The stories of both these characters come together, they meet and as they spend time, there is much in common between them which they realize. Holloway has a program sponsor named Steve Helms, a bit outspoken religious family man. While grateful for any help that he receives, Holloway seems to be more at ease with Bonner, the more reserved and hesitant. Both Holloway and Bonner are at the point of their lives where they are looking back at the opportunities that they have lost. Things they could have done better or things they could have avoided. The choices we make at a certain point in our lives have a continuous or present resonance for the rest of our lives. Maybe they aren't very clear at a given time but some day, they bite back. Both these men are lonely and desperate to have some support to back them up. They are more than capable without a doubt but the support they require is of the people they have loved all their lives.
Bonner has a son who avoids him, repeated attempts to contact him goes in vain. Bonner never loses the patience, very earnest and normal in his tone. Like a parent trying to gently hold his new-born child, attempting to get his attention, just a smile would do. Bonner's daughter is more friendly with him but still, she is unable to notice the real plights of her father. Bonner wants to re-connect, the daughter trying too much to have her father feel more important and 'looked after'. To Bonner, his current state of life is more of a pit stop, waiting for it to be over so that he can get back. But then he can't let go of things, thus coming across as somebody who lacks the eagerness to restart. Holloway having literally been serving for the choices he made, desperately wants to forget the past and start over. I would say that the most memorable aspect of this film is the climax. Holloway meeting his daughter after many years, attempting to re-connect with her. The restaurant conversation between Holloway and his daughter is a standout moment in the film. The urgency of the situation, the importance of the dialogues and the essential meaning of communication is beautifully highlighted there. The conversation is as one would expect, awkward, desperate and difficult. To have a grown up daughter in front of you, having missed everything about her and finding out how much you don't really know her is hard as one would presume. The scene feels like its closing in. The claustrophobia at times too much to handle. All of these responses evoked just by the dialogues, silences and our need to have the characters succeed in their goal. You want things to turn around for these characters having carefully observed and felt their troubles. It is a moment that despite not being your typically big, show-stopping melodramatic high point, still provides enough thrills and heart-flinching instances.
This is Martin Bonner is low-key and subdued so to speak but the emotions it carry and the way these characters are explored are nothing short of grand. I guess subtlety and simplicity is a graceful thing after all. This is Martin Bonner is carefully written and has so much room for its characters to breathe without confining them strictly in their 'roles'. The naturalistic way the characters in this film act, feel and observe themselves is admirable. Chad Hartigan's direction too is sharp and luminous. The performances by both Paul Eenhoorn and Richmond Arquette are very worthy and complimenting of what they are given to work with. Both the actors embody the essential qualities in their performances. Heartwarming performances by both, signifying their character's desperation and longing acutely. I can't seem to pick a favorite. There are two other elements in the film specially that compliments and adds more to the picture. First of, the almost-atmospheric cinematography and then the beautifully resonating score. Both these elements while not bluntly emphasized on are nevertheless likable and one can feel their significance no matter how small. There is a shot that I really loved in the film. A long take of the over-looking big highway. It starts from one side and then comes back all the way to Holloway as he stares the fast-moving automobiles. The cars and the people driving continue to move ahead while he feels like the only person in the world who isn't. This was one of those instance in the film where the less-said but more-told expression was fully canvassed. There are other moments in the film where the two main characters are shown in a still motion, emphasizing the obvious but never to a point of annoyance. This is Martin Bonner finds beauty in the little moments, moments leading up to something or the moments in between. It can be viewed as a melancholic film, it glows bright with the empathy and warmth, an honest film about reconciliation and redemption. Life is always a big question mark, this film realizes that. Despite the presence of religious aspects, this is far from those ordinary faith-based films that are difficult to swallow for their cluttered mess of a narrative. This is Martin Bonner may not be for everyone, specially for those who are not much interested in indie films but believe me, it is more than worth watching. A bittersweet, sad and affirming film exhibiting and exploring those qualities quite gracefully.