Written and Directed by Paul Bettany.
Starring Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Mackie, Bruce Altman, Kevin Hoffman, Rob Morgan, Teddy Canez, Aldolfo Menez-Nouel and Alok Tewari.
Two people from vastly different backgrounds fall in love while surviving homeless on the streets on New York.
Paul Bettany’s directorial début is a tough but rewarding feature, making the most of his off-screen partner Jennifer Connelly’s talents for humanistic, believable tragic romance. Whether you can actually take Jennifer Connelly as a homeless person is up to you, but she certainly does her best with a role that perhaps may have been a difficult sell if it was coming from anyone other than her husband.
In any case, whatever the thinking is of on casting famous Hollywood types to play down and outs, there is a heartfelt and well meaning context at work in the film. And if it raises further discussion about how to combat the roots of homelessness it must be do something right, right? But the film itself? Something of a struggle at times, but with an emotional pull that at its best is memorable. At its worst, aiming for too many shocks.
Anyway; it is on the streets of New York that Connolly’s destitute former high flyer Hannah meets Tahir (Mackie) a Nigerian immigrant with a completely different personal history and outlook on life. The two are initially brought together after Tahir, newly released from an immigration detention centre, spots his jacket being worn by Hannah. He proceeds to follow her around the city, until she admits its his, or something like that. From these inauspicious circumstances a love story is launched, with the two embracing their differences and shared problems in order to survive on the streets.
Central to Bettany’s main point with Shelter seems to be how fragile most modern lives really are. Without outside help or assistance most of us are only a few pay cheques away from homelessness, and the film does a pretty good job of conveying this depressing truth. It also gets the point over that love and attraction can happen anywhere, even when people are at their lowest of ebbs.
There is a danger of course that Shelter could be written off as overly too ‘worthy’, serving as an issue piece without enough depth to fully engage. This would be a shame as there is a good spark provided by the two leads and a story that ably conveys how precarious most modern lives essentially are.
The main problem with the film is that Bettany seems to have been overly eager to pile on the grimmer aspects. Sure, there’s no getting around the fact that being homeless is not known for being easy, but here we have international terrorism, drug addiction, long term disease, family problems, sexual threat and a whole lot else. One is left feeling that the film would have been better served by concentrating on just one of these aspects. Overall though, a moving film that could be the start of an interesting side career for Bettany.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.