Not for nothing does This Is Martin Bonner carry
that matter-of-fact, take-it-or-leave-it title. The film is a temporary
glimpse into an ordinary man’s conventional life yet is told
unconventionally, in that it doesn’t offer the regular beats to which
moviegoers are accustomed (if not numbed). We swoop in, we observe its
subject for a while, and then we go away without experiencing the Big
Grand Moment that climaxes require.
you, this is not a bad thing. At a time when studios still are
unloading their weakest product before fall’s stacked slate of award
bait, this ambling approach arrives most welcome. With a Sundance Film
Festival win under its belt, the indie drama plays Friday-Sunday at
Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
Retired and divorced, Martin Bonner (Paul Eenhoorn, Zoo) has
moved from the East Coast to Reno, Nev., where he fills his days
eBaying auction items and volunteering to help transition newly freed
ex-cons back into the civilian world. It’s this latter work that
introduces him to Travis (Richmond Arquette, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), a middle-aged man sprung after a 12-year stint for involuntary manslaughter.
a bond is formed, if tenuous. Underplaying his hand, upstart
writer/director Chad Hartigan shows viewers how these two men stand at
such different stations in life in order to illustrate how alike they
truly are. Both Martin and Travis are starting over, separated from
families they once were part of, lonely for love, struggling to live in a
place that puts them out of their element.
such a storyline, a filmmaker needs no millions — just a pair of damned
good actors. Working with an almost unbelievably low budget of $42,000,
Hartigan can afford that much, as long as they’re not brand names. To
the film’s benefit, our unfamiliarity with Eenhoorn and Arquette’s faces
sells the illusion that what we are witnessing could be happening
across town, or perhaps closer around the corner.
Eenhoorn is instantly
likable as the craggy-looking but hardly crabby Martin. Despite his
being the movie’s center, morally and literally, the harder, more
complex role belongs to Arquette. As the unknown member of the Arquette
acting dynasty — his sibs include Patricia, Rosanna and David — Richmond
Arquette has nothing to lose and everything to prove. A sheep in Thomas
Haden Church’s clothing, he more than impresses; he steals the film
during its longest scene: an awkward, pained reunion with the daughter
(Sam Buchanan, in a fine, natural debut) who’s no longer the little girl
he left behind.
Remarkably, this sequence hits no false notes. As a whole, This Is Martin Bonner never does, either.