HIFF Review: ‘This Is Martin Bonner’

Oct. 12, 2013 | 0 Comments

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REVIEW BY BURL BURLINGAME / Special To The Star-Advertiser

In the Book of John, there is the line, “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

This is one of many oblique references in the Bible to what theologians call the “invisible kingdom,” the notion that salvation comes from within, not from without. It’s also the heart of every 12-step program ever devised.


New American Filmmakers

Hawaii Premiere

Screens at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, and 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18


“This Is Martin Bonner” makes reference to the Invisible Kingdom, (and it would have been a more interesting, but perhaps more heavy-handed, title for the film). This lovely, elegiac film makes use of fundamental Christian belief, and of lonely men in their autumn years, and of second chances forced upon us, subjects not generally celebrated in Hollywood.

Bonner is an Australian emigre, newly divorced, bankrupt, and fired from his job in a church because he got divorced. It’s not fair, but stuff like this happens to people all the time. He has a new job far away from his former life, helping ex-cons in Reno readjust to the outside world. He’s not a sad sack or a joke; he’s a decent guy making the best he can out of his situation. He’s dealing with it. It’s called life.

Based possibly on mutual need, he strikes a tenuous friendship with Travis, out after serving 12 years for a DUI manslaughter conviction. It has ruined his life, but like Martin, he’s going to gut it out. Travis is reentering his life after an enforced time out, and he doesn’t want to blow it.

It remind me a bit of Paddy Chayefsky’s “Marty,” in that this is a quiet film filled with restraint, pretty rare in an era of me-first emotionalism. It pulls back when most films would zoom in, and reminds us that there’s nothing quite as thrilling as our real lives. Simple human empathy and dignity are a rare commodity.
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