Slice-of-life films are expected at the Sundance Film Festival. Whether they work or not is one thing. If a life lesson can be learned then I suppose it was all worthwhile, but when a film ends as abruptly as This Is Martin Bonner does, well you wonder if there was a whole third act that somehow got lopped off. While the performances by leads Paul Eenhoorn and Richmond Arquette are enough to keep you invested in the characters, it seems as if writer/director Chad Hartigan had no real ending in sight and instead just simply decides to yell, “Cut!”
Martin Bonner (Eenhoorn) has just moved to Reno and is new on the job working for a church-based program helping newly released prison inmates make their transition to life back in the real world. He makes lots of phone calls to his daughter in Maryland, is avoided by his son, spends his free time at antique auctions buying things to sell on eBay, and referees girls soccer games. Travis (Arquette) has just been released and is picked up by Martin. They make a stop at Martin’s favorite diner where they make small talk. Travis jokes to Martin that he’s never actually been to Reno but has lived there for 12 years on charges of unintentional manslaughter while drunk driving. Travis is supposed to be assigned to Steve (Robert Longstreet), but is put off by his over-religious take on life and instead finds solace in Martin. Together they form a quiet friendship of unspoken support and understanding.
And that’s about it. If you’re looking for more from the film, well, you’re not getting it. Like I said, writer/director Hartigan seemed to have some things on his mind to say about religion and making repentance but none of it makes its way into the film. There is a fantastic scene involving Travis meeting up with his estranged daughter Diana (Sam Buchanan) where the film could have picked up and given us some kind of denouement at least for Travis, but like I said, just as the story seems to be picking up, the credits begin. While the performances are very good, Eenhoorn in particular has charm to spare, it’s a shame that we don’t get what could be the rest of the film, instead we’re left with wanting more, but not for the right reasons. So while This Is Martin Bonner, it’s turns out to be a literal case of what you see is what you get.
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