Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 105 minutes
Distributor: Screen Media Films
It’s probably a hard-sell when you choose to make any film, let alone a romance, revolving around the homeless. After all, in real life, most of us avoid interacting with them at all costs.
Sure, if cornered, we might give them the loose change in our pockets. But if we’re being honest, that charitable gesture is generally employed as a way of ignoring rather than engaging a beggar in a meaningful way.
Nevertheless, with “Shelter,” actor-turned-writer/director Paul Bettany (Avengers: Age of Ultron) has opted to shed light on the plight of the least of our brethren. Bettany was ostensibly inspired by a couple who lived outside his and wife Jennifer Connelly’s building in New York City.
The compelling, character-driven drama co-stars Oscar-winner Connelly (for A Beautiful Mind) and Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), a versatile Juilliard-trained thespian perhaps best known for his work as the superhero Falcon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series. Here, the pair play Hanna and Tahir, street people struggling to survive unseen in the shadows of Brooklyn.
Each is down-and-out as the result of a terrible turn of events. Hanna is a widow who developed a heroin habit in the wake of the death of her husband serving in Iraq. And Tahir is an African immigrant desperate for sanctuary in the U.S. who overstayed his visa to escape the violence back in his homeland.
As the film unfolds, the two are complete strangers. Their paths cross in Brooklyn where a friendship is forged based as much on a grudging on trust as on the urgent, mutual need for safety, food and shelter.
Meanwhile, they also find the time to exchange life stories, leaning on each other’s shoulders for the empathy they could never hope to get from a world that no longer cares. Eventually, love blossoms, and together they hatch a plan to rejoin respectable society together.
It would be unfair to spoil further any of the details of this poignant portrait painting a plausible picture of where any of us might be, but for fortune. While it’s no surprise that Connelly and Mackie might turn in powerful performances, a salute is also in order for Bettany for an impressive, timely and daring directorial debut guaranteed to shake you out of your comfort zone.