Directed by: Paul Bettany
Written by: Paul Bettany
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Mackie, Amy Hargreaves, Scott Johnsen, Kevin Geer
Running Time: 105 minutes
Tahir and Hannah used to live in two different worlds. They have nothing in common. Tahir is a well-trained former soldier, who has turned his back on the government after losing his wife and son. Hannah has left behind her son and a loving family due to her drug addiction. Now they both have ended up in the same place – the empty and ruthless streets of New York. It is here that they both realize that in order to survive and have a better future they have to rely on each other: That is all they have – each other.
Shelter begins with telling the two different paths of the main characters – Tahir and Hannah, who seem to be living two different realities on the streets of New York. Tahir (Anthony Mackie) plays drum to earn some money, while Hannah (Jennifer Connelly) begs on the streets with a cardboard sign in her hand that says: “I used to be someone”. This is her daily way to solicit money from kind people to buy drugs. But when the money she earns is not enough to pay for the drugs, Hannah gets beaten up by the drug dealer. Witnessing this, Tahir comes to Hannah’s defense to protect her from this cruel person. And with this the journey of Tahir and Hannah begins – introducing us to who they are, who they used to be and their life on the streets.
Finding a good idea for a directorial debut is not an easy task, especially if the director wants the story to have an impact on the viewers. Having told many different stories as an actor, Paul Bettany wrote and directed the Shelter, which brings to us the story of faceless, nameless or virtually invisible people to most of us: people, who we can see every day on the street – homeless people.
Bettany’s directorial debut is quite successful as he manages to develop his characters and effectively tell their story in Shelter. As the film progresses, Bettany guides us to Hannah’s experience in a very specific dark manner – for instance, in the scene where Hannah is looking for a place to sleep in the bitter cold. This is when Terry (Kevin Geer) appears in the film as a hero, who very much wants to help this poor woman and offers her shelter overnight in the building he supervises. However, soon after, he tells her that in the world they live in nothing is for free. If he does a favor for her, then she needs to give him something in return. Hannah does what seems right to her – she has nothing else to offer but her body.
One of the best things about Shelter is its star cast – Anthony Mackie who plays Tahir and Jennifer Connely who appears as Hannah. Mackie who recently can be seen as Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as Sam Coulson in The Fifth Estate, and Black and White where he plays opposite Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer. In Shelter Mackie takes a different approach by playing a hopeless man who has nothing else left in his life than counting down days as he lives on the streets. Mackie and Connely in tandem work very well. Connelly does her best – playing once again a drug addicted woman (previously played in Darren Aranofsky’s Requem For A Dream). Her character does have a life and a family to return to, but her personal issues and addictions to drugs do not allow her to return to her old life. That is why she has to stay on the street and live a miserable life. Both actors share a specific chemistry on the screen – making us look at their characters and see beyond current state of the miserable life. We can see them as human beings who deserve to have a better life and a chance to fix their seemingly unsolvable problems.
In conclusion, Shelter is an exceptional film, which tells the story of two people who have made mistakes which led them to a live on the streets and which will certainly shorten their wrecked lives. Bettany delivers a clear message in his film – anyone who happens to live on the streets used to have a different life – a life they loved and people that cared about them. But mistakes of their past have brought them to where they are now, where they have to suffer, starve and get abused every day. The film makes us realize that while we enjoy our warm beds and eat our daily meals, there are homeless people who have nothing but leftovers from the garbage bin.