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This Is Martin Bonner (2013)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THIS IS MARTIN BONNER (2013)

Starring: Paul Eenhoorn, Richmond Arquette, Sam Buchanan, Robert Longstreet

Written & Directed By: Chad Hartigan

The Short Version

Call This Is Martin Bonner an Art Film, if you must put a label on it.

Call it unpretentious, stark realism that is hopeful without any added smarm.

Call it anything but easy.

Call Paul Eenhoorn’s title performance elegantly brilliant.

Call This Is Martin Bonner worth your time and attention.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

MELLOW CHEDDAR

SPREAD.

What many a person has called upon for comfort in an apartment without guests.  (Doesn’t mean it’s not good.)


Pairs Well With...

LITTLE PENGUIN MERLOT.

What many a person has called upon for comfort in an apartment without guests.  (Doesn’t mean it’s not good.)

“Where’s your car?”


When one sees a film title like This Is Martin Bonner, an obvious question comes to mind: who the hell is Martin Bonner?  Then, after a moment for one’s mind to go through the list of recent fifteen minute celebrities, disgraced politicians, and sex scandal participants, only to come up empty, one realizes that this must simply be the name of a fictional character.  And since the fiftysomething guy on the very, very brown poster looks nothing like George Clooney or Samuel L. Jackson or Sly Stallone, one is likely to further conclude – correctly so – that this character happens to exist inside of an indie flick.

Particularly observant types might notice all of the festival accolades attached to that poster, including a “Best of Next” award from Sundance, and decide that it’s worth a go.  The rest move on to the next question: why should I care?

If you’re reading this, that question probably wasn’t just rhetorical for you.  Congratulations; your open mind allows you the chance to experience something deeply outstanding that lots of others will miss.

This Is Martin Bonner is 83 minutes of raw honesty.  It is a slice of life that defies convention and pretense at every turn, trusting the audience to see the reality of it all and drink deeply from its deliberately measured voyeurism.  Why do I call it voyeurism?  Because you're looking at reality. There’s not a single frame of fakery to be found from start to finish.  Expectations and stereotypes are always cast aside in favor of simple, deceptively mundane truths.  Glitz and glamour give way to secondhand furniture and outmoded sweaters.  Like the poster, almost everything the audience sees is earthy and muted.  Nothing is magnified for dramatic effect; every one of the film’s signature moments passes by with either calm words or none at all.  Indeed, This Is Martin Bonner goes out of its way to be relentlessly ordinary…

…and that’s the brilliance that makes it work.

This Is Martin Bonner.  This is life.  Real life.

This isn’t the story of a young rocker from Jersey moving to LA and making it big.  It’s the story of a divorcee with two grown kids moving from Maryland to Nevada because that’s where he can find a job after three years of unemployment.  This isn’t the story of someone performing heroic deeds by building a metal suit in his billion dollar basement laboratory and busting fire-breathing heads.  It’s the story of someone becoming a hero to someone else by being the calmest, most decent man on the planet.  One could argue that this isn’t even a story with a proper beginning or ending in the traditional sense.  It’s a chapter or two from the much larger tale that is a regular man’s life.

But that life – like yours, and like mine – is so incredibly rich when we aren’t distracted by Hollywood (or even run-of-the-mill indie) hyperbole that what at first pass may feel like a very slow 83 minutes ends up flying by and sticking with you long after the end credits have rolled, becoming even more rewarding over hours of reflection.

Much of this is thanks to the remarkable storytelling of writer/director Chad Hartigan, who resists so many temptations with this screenplay that one suspects he may have been made to spend forty days in the Nevada desert before calling it done.  (And hey, anyone who can turn a sequence involving a man being half-coerced into hiring the services of a $50 hooker into something thoughtful instead of sleazy has got a gift or two in his pocket.)  However, brilliant as Hartigan’s narrative and direction are, there’s one other essential person who truly lifts This Is Martin Bonner up from the level of “quaint indie film that the coffee house crowd can dig” to “outstanding movie that shows the world what can happen when an indie character drama is done right.”

That essential person is actor Paul Eenhoorn, who plays the man himself, Martin Bonner.

Nearly every professional I’ve ever asked has described successful acting as “going on camera (or on stage) and telling the truth.”  But even in the most truthful of roles, the majority of actors are thrown some kind of extraordinary bone to build from: a story point or personal trait that sets the character apart from the rest of humanity.  To take a completely regular human being with no such script-given advantages and make him compelling, magnetic, and even heroic is something else entirely, and Paul Eenhoorn does it with a remarkable elegance that is simply a wonder to behold.  To the untrained eye, what he does seems effortless, but for the savvy, there can be no question that the craftsmanship on display is anything but.  Eenhoorn brilliantly merges the notion of the superman into the everyman, and turns the regular person trying to get by in the world – you, me, your neighbor, all of us – into someone to cheer for and look up to.  When Eenhoorn’s Bonner rocks out playing air guitar to an 8 track recording of a band he played in as a young man (that really is a recording of a song written by Eenhoorn and performed by the band he was in as a young man, by the way), it’s a heroic moment.  When he speaks in that unfailingly calm voice that is never raised for even an instant, we’re compelled to hang on to every word.  This isn’t just a performance; it’s an acting clinic. 

But you don’t have to be an actor yourself to learn from it; indeed, that’s much of the point.  Just sit back and take it in as Paul Eenhoorn brings you the story of a few weeks in Martin Bonner’s life.  You’ll find that the wisdom conveyed is very rich indeed.

And in the last great feat performed by this movie as a whole, there’s not a single drop of smarm or saccharine sentimentality to be found along the way.  Now that’s impressive.

Bottom line, sometimes it’s good to escape from the standard Hollywood escapism – and the standard indie sarcasm – and step into real life.  This Is Martin Bonner, and this is great stuff.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2013


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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