Realism in cinema has a habit of rubbing people the wrong way, given that many directors who practice the style tend to pummel their audience with an abundance of brutally mundane details. But this is not a necessity, as Chad Hartigan shows in “This Is Martin Bonner.” His tender, affectionate touch throughout demonstrates how filmmakers can evoke the rhythms of the everyday without recourse to deliberate inducement of boredom.
In many ways, my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” is as straightforward as its title. “This Is Martin Bonner” follows its Paul Eenhoorn’s titular character with the precision of a “to be” verb. Hartigan allows us to observe Martin’s life as he undergoes some changes that force him to reacclimate some. He moves to Nevada to work for a religiously affiliated non-profit organization that helps released convicts rediscover their place in society.
One man that he helps, Richmond Arquette’s Travis Holloway, seems to spark Martin’s engagement more than usual. Both seek balance in a world that demands labels and extremes, though neither immediately recognizes the similarities or the ways in which they can help each other. They simply go about their lives, trying to establish some kind of human connection to restore a little normalcy.
Though we only get about 80 minutes with Martin and Travis, the time feels wholly satisfying. Hartigan balances hefty conversations about family and faith with the quiet, tiny moments that speak volumes about a person. The mini-journeys of the two characters come across as quite real indeed – and not because they meet some standard of verisimilitude. Rather, a genuine sincerity shines through every frame of “This Is Martin Bonner.” Hartigan lays on the humanity while never turning the film’s heart into a fragile object. It is, in essence, a perfect example of how to achieve natural stories without resorting to pure naturalism itself.