Year of Release: 2013 Directed by Chad Hartigan. Starring Paul Eenhoorn, Richmond Arquette, Sam Buchanan, and Robert Longstreet.
This is Martin Bonner is a delightful film, the kind which one wishes to see more of, but all too rarely does. It is a quiet unassuming film that takes a simple story and through that story manages to portray some of the most poignant human emotions and experiences along with some of the most heartfelt realistic characters that have graced the silver screen in 2013.
Martin Bonner (Paul Eenhoorn) has recently relocated from Maryland to Arizona. After being unemployed for two years and filing for bankruptcy, he is finally starting a new job with a clean slate as a coordinator for an organization that helps released prisoners reenter society and find work.
Travis Holloway (Richmond Arquette) has served twelve years in the Arizona state penitentiary for manslaughter and is now looking to rebuild his life, especially his relationship with his young adult daughter. Upon being released, he meets Martin and is assigned Steve Helms (Robert Longstreet) for a caseworker.
Both Martin and Travis are suffering disillusionment. Martin lost his job as a church coordinator after his wife divorced him and has been plagued by doubts and a crisis of faith ever since. Travis feels like an outcast among the well adjusted Steve and his wife, whom he describes as “very Christian,” because they seem only to talk about their faith and how Jesus has made everything work out for them. In one scene, they discuss how they found Jesus at the “late” age of sixteen; Travis cannot relate, and this discussion makes him feel hopelessly lost.
This is Martin Bonner is not interested in caricaturizing Christians with obnoxious believers and sympathetic agnostics. Steve and his wife make a very sympathetic couple. They obviously mean well, but their life has gone so smoothly that they do not realize that descriptions of their Christian bliss are alienating and discouraging to someone who has lived twelve years in prison without any significant relationships.
Martin, on the other hand, visits with Travis and speaks to him as a friend. Since they both are suffering broken individuals isolated from their families, they form a natural friendship. However, it is not their brokenness which forms the crux of their friendship. Rather their friendship is built upon ability of Martin to see Travis as a person first and foremost, before he offers to help him. Travis in turn recognizes Martin as an individual and reaches out to him in his loneliness.
The last three popes have spoken of a need for a new evangelization, and in his recent interview with American Magazine Pope Francis specifically said that the utmost consideration in interacting with any sinner, which we all are, is always to consider the person first. One of the easiest traps to fall into is placing any important truth above embracing others with mercy and love. This is Martin Bonner portrays the beauty and success of two characters who naturally interact with compassion, unaware of the good that they accomplish for each other.
Director and writer Chad Hartigan’s empathetic and vulnerable characters are the strongest asset of the film. From Martin to Travis to his daughter to Steve and his wife, all of the characters are completely believable showcasing genuine emotions. Those characters are brought to life by an incredibly talented cast as well as Hartigan’s straightforward, realistic dialogue. That dialogue is further strengthened by Hartigan’s simple yet elegant camerawork. One emotionally intense scene in a restaurant is first shot through reflections in a mirror, but as the intensity increases the camera shifts to focus directly on the faces of the actors.
Before I watched This is Martin Bonner, I was a little nervous that it would not live up to the high praise that my favorite critics were lavishing upon it, and I would be disappointed. Those fears were completely unfounded; this film is every bit as good as I had heard, and it even exceeded my very high expectations. The film only runs eighty minutes, but in those eighty minutes it depicts one of the strongest stories about faith and above all, love.
This review was supposed to be short, but even at this length, I feel I have barely scratched the surface of all the riches this film has to offer.
Content Advisory: Fleeting depiction of non-graphic sexual activity with partial nudity, and some rough language. MPAA rating: R
Suggested Audience: Teens and up with discernment.
Personal Recommendation: A