This is Martin Bonner is the second film I saw at EIFF that dealt with the relationship between Christianity and american society. The first being C.O.G.. Both films bring out the positives and negatives of belonging to a church community quite well as well as being great character studies in their own right.
This is Martin Bonner has two main characters. The first is the titular character, an Australian who works for a Christian organisation who help inmates readjust to everyday life.
The second is Travis, a man recently released from prison trying to rebuild his life and his relationship with his daughter, who is now around 21.
We soon learn Martin used to work as a business manager for a church and is recently divorced, so like Travis he is trying to rebuild his life in a new place. The two then form a friendship built on a shared sense they are at a crossroads in their lives.
The film often shows Martin on the phone to his daughter. She is keen to help him in any way she can, including signing him up to a dating website, despite his misgivings. Martin also has a son, who never seems to answer his calls, and instead we see Martin leaving a series of messages on his son’s answerphone. The film is careful never to reveal why Martin’s son will not speak to him. Is he too busy, or does he blame him for the divorce?
One of the most interesting scenes in the film comes when Martin and Travis talk about how Martin came to work for his organisation. It is revealed that he had a crisis of faith, waking up one day and “not wanting to go to church anymore”. Ironically it was his divorce, rather than his doubts, which led to him being fired by the church. However, he soon found out no non-Christian organisations would hire him, and so ended up back where he started, working again for a bunch of Christians.
It is unclear through out the film whether Martin has completely lost his faith, or merely his faith in the church. He remains someone whose sense of morality seems unchanged, but with an obvious uneasiness when talking about matters of faith.
Travis meanwhile “wants to get things right this time” and seems to see the type of community the church offers as being a positive influence on him. Although he sees faith as an “all or nothing” deal, and has yet to decide whether he is ready to make that kind of commitment.
Overall, This is Martin Bonner delivers a fascinating portrait of all the influences and decisions we make that can have a profound influence on the direction we are heading in. As Martin and Travis try and balance work, fatherhood, faith, and friendship we see two men unsure of exactly how they ended up here, and unsure of how to get to a better place. Like all my favourite films, it delivers plenty of questions without giving you too many answers. A film then certain about the importance of life’s uncertainties.