This Is Martin Bonner ★★★½

Godless Men
Searching for reform
In a paradoxical climate.
Minor aspirations
With major revelations.

Give me that premise in a film festival catalogue and I’d drive a big black marker X over it to avoid it at all costs. Repeating what most others have said, but it’s the Sundance movie that gracefully knocks through any Sundance-ness with wit and honesty that’s never faked. Part is the small scope of the picture, which is not that this relationship is diving into Hard Truths About Life stated bluntly to the camera, but about carefully observed choices and actions that effect how these two essentially agnostic men come to terms with their physical realities. Nevada makes for a paradoxical location – a place known for hot deserts now reduced to a wintry locale that keeps people isolated in large jackets, protecting their inner feelings. Martin and Travis get along so well because of this feeling that while still connected to the church, they worry what their day-to-day lives really mean - what matters is what is here and not what happens after (Travis’s line about his first mentor’s faith is one wondrously realized – he has nothing against faith, but he can’t see himself putting his whole trust in it).

A few missteps occur when Hartigan shies away from dialogue toward more “lyrical” moments – an unmotivated 360 tracking shot, a slow-mo on Travis’s discomfort after church – which do feel either a little too telegraphed or obtuse. But when it comes down to that lunch and the way the conversation naturally increases the tensions, then delightfully resolves in a melodramatic shift that does feel surprising, and you’ve got something smarter full of low key moments with high key precision, plus Eenhoorn’s fantastic central performance (a guy I was convinced I had seen in 100+ movies before, given his natural on-screen presence). Also, the film has a sense of space and composition that actually matters (one great note: two choice in framing in the hugs between Travis and his daughter and what each one emphasizes). As opposed to, you know, the rest of Sundance.