A quietly devastating grace note of a film, writer-director Chad Hartigan's "This Is Martin Bonner" takes a magnifying glass to everyday goodness and lingering pain, illuminating their contours and complexities but pulling away before the movie can ever burst into sentimental flame.
First we meet Reno transplant Martin (Australian actor Paul Eenhoorn), a gray-haired, congenial yet weary-eyed divorcee easing his way into a new job as a volunteer coordinator helping soon-to-be-released prisoners. He's lonely but not a loner: He calls his adult children regularly, referees kids' soccer and even reluctantly speed-dates at his daughter's suggestion. His latest charge is middle-aged Travis (Richmond Arquette), who's served 12 years for drunk driving-related manslaughter, and in the crisp Nevada air — captured beautifully by cinematographer Sean McElwee — can look like a scared, wide-eyed newborn.
With uncommon intelligence and a sublimely pumping heart, Hartigan nudges these faith-challenged souls toward a place of Samaritan-like connectedness seemingly both low-key and significant. "This Is Martin Bonner," wonderfully acted and something of a minimalist masterpiece, is a striking, moving ode to lives lived day to day, even hour to hour, in which the smallest gesture has the power to make one hopeful for the next, like a small fire gently stoked.
"This is Martin Bonner"
MPAA rating: R for some brief language and sexuality
Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes
Playing: The Downtown Independent