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Overstreet

This is Martin Bonner

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I highly, highly recommend This is Martin Bonner.

 

If there is an ArtsandFaith.com movie for 2013, well... this could well be it. 

 

Here's what I wrote at Letterboxd:

A prisoner on his way back out into the world. A man suffering a crisis of faith reaches out to help him. The world changes.

 

Like THE STATION AGENT, it seems so simple. It really, really isn't. It's an exceptional, intimate drama, beautifully acted, in which any casual line is loaded, every pause powerfully pregnant.

 

It's hard to say on just one film, but I'm inclined to believe that Hartigan is some kind of superman when it comes to restraint. Where most filmmakers would have filled in so many details, chased so many subplots, answered so many questions, these two men remain mysteries to us in many ways. But somehow Hartigan strikes just the right balance so that we we know and what we don't know, at any given moment, is just right, making for rare moments of exquisitely nuanced humanity. He never goes for the sensational possibility. It's almost as if he's never seen a movie before.

 

The two leads make these two characters completely persuasive and a joy to watch.

 

And the film's treatment of faith is kind of... forgive me... miraculous. Some Christians I know will cringe at it because they're concerned, above all else, about how the church is portrayed. They don't want the home team to look anything less than fantastic. What they'll get is a story of doubters, and a depiction of a church that looks real and human, without betraying any kind of agenda or bias on the storyteller's part. Think Lars and the Real Girl, or Junebug.

 

Me, I'm concerned about how God is portrayed. Where you find love, where you find truth, where you find beauty, you find God at work. And God... well, he should get top billing here.

 

I am already in line for whatever Chad Hartigan does next.

 

 

And I wholeheartedly agree with Jake Cole, who writes:

 

The grace with which Hartigan ducks the pitfalls of his subject matter and structure is more thrilling than all of the CGI-fests I've seen so far this year.

 

 

This is my big, happy surprise of the year so far. For now, I'm putting it on the top of my 2013 list.

 

Now streaming on Netflix.

Edited by Overstreet

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Beware. I just received an email promoting "the Family Edit" from the Dove Foundation. Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh.

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I just saw this.  It's going to take a while to digest, but it is certainly a surprise that feels like just came out of nowhere.

 

- After meandering through most of the film, I was enjoying the story.  There were some awkward moments and a few special moments.  What I didn't expect was one scene that was going to suddenly become really tense.  The tension in the scene builds and builds and then right at the moment of crisis there's this sudden, perfectly timed and delightful surprise.  That scene made the film for me.  It's one of the most practical examples of how I believe God's grace can be shared between one person and another.

 

- Another thing the film does well is it contrasts how believers will talk to those they are trying to help.  Martin directly contrasts with a Christian couple in the film.  It's not that the Christian couple isn't doing good.  It's not that they don't care.  It's not even that they aren't able to help others to a certain extent.  But the way that they talk, the Christian language that they use, and their total obliviousness to how they are coming across - it defeats their ability to communicate and reach Travis.  That dinner scene they have with him is so uncomfortable because you're watching them as they are losing him - and they don't even see that they're losing him.  Martin isn't better than they are.  He might even have more problems than they do.  But he doesn't talk like they do.  He doesn't try to relate by explaining how he "was a punk too" before he was saved at the age of 16.  The contrast here between how believers talk to others and how huge of a difference it can make is stark.  I'm not sure if I've seen one film illustrate the contrast this clearly before.

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Attica   

Now I *have* to see this.

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Crow   

This is an excellent film, masterfully executed, and very human.

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Martin's crisis of faith breaks my heart.  He is living the Jesus life.  In his relationship with Travis.  With his children.  But for whatever reason, he feels far from the pursuit of Jesus.  He hit a point where he was tired of sacrificing to do all the things that his "faith" required.  Yet I see him sacrificing doing all the things that faith requires.  His honesty and vulnerability are closer to true faith than he realizes.  

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I was delighted to see him point to Tuesday Before Christmas as one of the films that inspired him here. Wow. Didn't see that coming.

 

And his observations about the tendency for films about older folks to focus on regaining youthful spirit are right on.

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Evan C   

Having very high expectations for this, I was a little worried it would disappoint and be unable to live up to all the praise I had heard.  Those worries were completely unfounded.  This is Martin Bonner is a terrific film; it even surpassed my expectations.  From the very first scene as the prisoner exposes the flaws in Martin's rulebook offer for early release, I was captivated.  Like Jeremy, one of my favorite scenes was the perfectly timed surprise that interrupts the highest point of tension in the film.  I also loved how Hartigan filmed the two way discussions.  His cuts were perfectly timed to emphasize the dialogue while showing the emotions of the characters; the performances, script, and camera all worked together perfectly.  The dramatic tension in

the restaurant between Travis and his daughter is probably the most poignant and heartfelt exchange I've seen this year.

I think Hartigan manages to place more emotional weight on that scene than any of Celine and Jesse's exchanges in Before Midnight.  (And I thought Before Midnight had incredible emotional weight.)

 

It seemed appropriate to watch this shortly after reading Pope Francis' American Magazine interview in which he said we always have to consider the person first.  Isn't this film a depiction of two ways of helping sinners to regain their footing?  Both Martin and the Christian couple mean well, but Martin tries to help Travis as a person and a friend, while the couple waxes poetic about their own faith journeys and doctrinal issues.

Edited by Evan C

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Added it to my Netflix queue... er, I mean "My List"...

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Darren H   

I've already used this line on Twitter and Letterboxd, but I honestly did spent the first few minutes of This is Martin Bonner wishing that the film were about the fascinating and charismatic Australian man who was interviewing the prisoner. Really, one of my favorite film moments of the year was when I realized it was. Love this film, and for so many reasons.

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I've already used this line on Twitter and Letterboxd, but I honestly did spent the first few minutes of This is Martin Bonner wishing that the film were about the fascinating and charismatic Australian man who was interviewing the prisoner. Really, one of my favorite film moments of the year was when I realized it was. Love this film, and for so many reasons.

 

I am thrilled that you like it so much, Darren. I'm planning to meet Eenhorn for coffee soon. I'm tempted to ask him to pose for a picture with me with a "Hello My Name Is" sticker on.

 

What a year for two-people-talking movies. This, Museum Hours, Before Midnight... and those are my top three. Strange convergence since 2009, when six of my top ten were animated films, and four of those were stop-motion animation. 

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Darren H   

What a year for two-people-talking movies. This, Museum Hours, Before Midnight... and those are my top three.

 

Those three are all in my current top 10, too. Our tastes seem to be converging!

Edited by Darren H

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Brian D   

Liked this film quite a bit as well.

 

2 thoughts:

 

-Missed connections seem to be what we see over and over in this film. Martin and Travis's friendship is one of the only places where we have real hope for connections to be made and kept.  Similar for Travis and his daughter, but this one feels more tenuous. The small connections made in these relationships seem to be writ quite large when set in the context of so many connections missed.  The contrast is quite powerful and vital.

 

-At one point, a character refers to the Simon and Garfunkel song "America".  That's a nice reference, as that song also captures a relationship in the context of a yearning that is both sad and hopeful.

 

 

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Tyler   

What a year for two-people-talking movies.

 

 

Prince Avalanche probably isn't on the same level, but it is another good two-people-talking movie from this year.

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SDG   

Everything everyone said. Everything. I'm blown away. 

 

The film is so richly and authentically human in its blends of goodness and frailty—of all different sorts, across all different axes—that it's simultaneously continually surprising and utterly convincing. 

 

What's really extraordinary, though, is its exploration of the different kinds of relationships people have with faith. It's easily the most sophisticated postmodern exploration of faith, or exploration of postmodern faith, I've ever seen. Of Gods and Men may be the most powerful cinematic exploration I've ever seen of the Christian ideal; This Is Martin Bonner may be the most insightful exploration I've seen of what Christianity looks like on the ground in postmodern Western culture.

 

MatthewBradham is certainly right that Martin is living an admirable Christian life in his current situation, and that the life we see him live seems closer and more consistent with true faith than he realizes. Fr. Robert Barron has talked about the importance of praxis over theory in the Christian life, and Martin's life makes a good case for it. 

 

At the same time, there's a complexity and ambiguity to his character that can't be glossed over. He seems to connect his discovery of selfishness with his divorce, and I see no reason not to take that insight at face value. He reaches out to both his children, and his daughter is clearly very supportive of him, but it's not stretching the evidence too far to hazard a guess that in the divorce the daughter may have been on Martin's side, the son on the mother's side. 

 

Many people are capable of being admirable, virtuous and even heroic in one context or sphere of life while at the same time being flawed, venal and selfish in other areas of their lives. A brilliant political leader is an idiot in his private life; a sweet, loving person gets on the Internet and becomes someone else entirely. 

 

In this film we see Martin, perhaps, at his best -- and what we see is very, very good. In some ways Martin makes me feel the way he makes Travis feel, like I want to be a better person because of him. At the same time, there's no reason to think this is who he is all the time, or who he always has been. 

 

Martin is a person who, like all of us, is invested in thinking of himself as a good person, and whose actions this movie certainly comport with that self-understanding. But this is too sophisticated a movie, I think, to give us a protagonist who is the Zen master of a life well lived, and it's entirely consistent with what we see in this film that Martin might have a lot to answer for. So may we all.

Edited by SDG

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I'm happy for the positive reactions here, but feel the need -- why, oh why, do I feel this need? -- to say that I'm not quite as enthused as others are about this film. Sure, I'm glad the film is engaging, substantive and spiritual in its themes. What more could one ask for in a movie?

 

Well, maybe just this one thing: I wish it had a stronger cinematic quality to it.

 

This is a problem with most two-people-talking movies, although I admit that when I've liked those movies, I haven't expressed similar reservations. I'm just finding that in this film ... well, I'm finding that the movie hasn't really stayed with me on a visual level. I don't remember much of the imagery here. When I think of Martin Bonner, I picture the lead actor and that scene at the diner. That's about it. (Why that character and that scene? I don't know.)

 

I want to stress that this isn't a huge problem and that, obviously, your mileage may vary, etc. I guess I'm explaining why this one won't be on my Top 10 list this year. Which isn't the same thing as saying I didn't like it or admire it, or that I wouldn't recommend it to others. Museum Hours, on the other hand, caught me up in its symphony of music, images, instruction/teaching and stretches of two-people-talking. It'll be high on my list.

Edited by Christian

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