A lot of films try to take its characters from one place to another place in order to demonstrate some truth about life, the universe and everything. This is Martin Bonner forgoes such structure. The film is about a man–or actually two men–and his life as he is. There may be truths about life along the way but we’re following a point in which life is ambiguous, awkward and doesn’t get put back together easily.
That is because both of the men in this film are starting a new life. Martin Bonner (Paul Eenhoorn) is working with a program to help rehabilitate recently released prisoners. One of those men is Travis Holloway (Richmond Arquette). Both men find it difficult to acclimate and connect to the world around them.
Therefore, a lot of the film is about the difficulty of making a human connection. For a while, Travis is underneath Steve Helms (Robert Longstreet), but finds it hard to be genuine under a man who boldly shares his religious convictions. He finds Martin more personable, perhaps in part because both share a sense of isolation from the world around them. Martin’s frequent calls to his children are an attempt to cling to old human connections without pursuing new ones.
The film’s soundtrack often reinforces the sense of isolation and fear that traps the characters in their loneliness. In one scene, Travis nurses a coffee while standing outside his motel. The camera spins to look at the highway before rotating back around to Travis. It’s a shot that expresses the turmoil, anxiety and fear in Travis’ mind purely though the overwhelming buzz of the highway traffic. Other times, the film cuts out the sound in order to isolate the character not only in space but also in sound.
The film introduces threads that are never fully resolved. Martin buys an item at auction and we never find out if it sells. The few romantic prospects of the film are swiftly swept under the rug. These scenes might seem pointless except for the fact that they reinforce the loneliness and isolation of these characters.
The drive for connection brings these two men together. What connects them isn’t their past or their interests. Instead, they find a deeper connection of going through the same phase in life, the same troubles. Pursuit of family, friends and significant others don’t end up like the characters hope, or at least not as quickly as they hope. but the relationship between the two goes deeper and is perhaps more important.
The film presents an interesting framing device that it refuses to directly connect to the core story. Martin needs new glasses early in the film and the last scene is him finally getting the glasses and putting them on. The suggesting is that there’s something about the perspective of how we see the world that needs to be fixed. But what that is and how we go about fixing it is something that the film doesn’t answer.
This is Martin Bonner excels because it goes down the routes of many other films and shows how they are ultimately fruitless. Other films about such a midlife crisis would be about finding a new found zest for life or a sexy, romantic partner. Instead, This is Martin Bonner is about realizing that we don’t always make the connections we want, but the ones we need often require honesty, vulnerability and come from unusual places.
© 2013 James Blake Ewing