The ability to capture something that feels entirely realistic on film is certainly an impressive one, but this humble indie drama might be a little too realistic. This is Martin Bonner features a very clean cut directorial style, that mimics Danish film-making with deep hints of naturalism. This is Martin Bonner, directed and written by Chad Hartigan and premièred in February at Sundance Film Festival, with a very minimal cinematic release. In it’s most simplest definition, This is Martin Bonner is a ‘life’ film. A drama of sorts aiming to depict the regular occurrences of a mundane existence, whilst staying away from the clichéd and hackneyed realm of high melodrama.
Martin Bonner is a man in his winter years, who relocates to the east coast to Nevada for a new job whilst leaving his old life behind. His new job involves him being a guidance officer for ex-cons who are trying to integrate themselves back into society. Martin struggles to adjust to his new surroundings, and finds himself frequently missing his kids. He soon meets Travis. Travis, recently released from prison also struggles with his new surroundings. As time passes by Martin’s contractual obligation to help Travis blooms into an unlikely friendship, as they begin to realize how much they have in common. Their friendship is tested as Travis attempts to reconnect with his long forgotten daughter Diana.
As you’d expect from an indie film, it’s much more a character study than following a linear storyline structure. Within that lies my primary criticism for This Is Martin Bonner, that it doesn’t develop its characters enough for us to empathize with their situation. Paul Eenhoorn pulls off the eponymous character of Martin with a refreshing sagey kind of wisdom, but the script doesn’t allow us to truly understand the character other than what’s on the surface. Richmond Arquette as Travis Holloway was an amateurish performance, with Travis seemingly like a gormless, blank slate of a man in comparison to his counterpart. The script is probably just a little undeveloped as the characterisation doesn’t quite leap off the screen, bar from a few poignant scenes.
That aside, the minimalist style of This is Martin Bonner is quite refreshing. When you have a story localized around two characters that are lonely, the cinematography becomes quite important. In many scenes we see the world buzz around Travis and Martin, with them seemingly left in the dust. One of the films messages is that, it can be hard to adapt to a different social climate or location. A good example of this is when Martin is stood alone against the clinical white of the art museum, or the traffic zooming past the road as Travis stands onlooking. It’s very sombre, and subtle and certainly rewards an attentive eye.
The main idea behind the story of the film, is that people have more in common than you might think. That in any situation two unlikely people may be capable of emphasizing with one another. It both works, and doesn’t work to varying degrees. It works in that we see them bond out of a mutual outlandish quality in this world that’s new for the both of them. As the narrative wound down to the inevitable feel good moment during it’s finale, I didn’t think it quite gelled together. I didn’t quite get that feel-good emotional feeling that this happy catharsis was seemingly supposed to bring.
Overall, the narrative of This is Martin Bonner is incredibly basic. Like I said, it’s a character study, but the film’s characters are hard to relate or identify with just because they’re so underdeveloped. I couldn’t say I was highly entertained, or emotionally invested at any point. That being said, Chad Hartigan’s clean and naturalistic style of directing is impressive and does bare some entertainment value. For the more artistically and cinematically inclined I’d suggest it, if you’re looking for a warm hearted indie blockbuster of the year, perhaps not.