Homeless on the streets of New York, two people from very different worlds (Jennifer Connelly and Anthony Mackie) find strength and solace in each other, in the moving directorial debut by acclaimed actor Paul Bettany.
Hannah (Jennifer Connelly) has done terrible things but she hasn't lost hope. Having abandoned her child and succumbed to a shattering drug addiction, she now seeks shelter on the streets of New York. Tahir (Anthony Mackie) has done terrible things, too, although he is more secretive about his past. They find each other in Manhattan, but this is a different kind of New York love story.
More Cassavetes than Woody Allen, Shelter follows Hannah and Tahir as they push through the despair, the dangers, and the doubts rising up around them. What little shelter they can scrounge in this sometimes-ruthless city is fleeting and risky — finding a place to sleep out of the cold means trusting strangers who could easily take advantage. Trying to build and keep a relationship is that much harder when every impulse says it's easier to be alone, and safer too. But whether she likes it or not, Hannah will need Tahir to help her kick her habit. And he's in need of his own salvation.
Connelly and Mackie fill these characters with life. They're prickly and irresistible, tragic and seductive. Playing against the angelic glamour for which she's renowned, Academy Award winner Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) physically manifests Hannah's pain in every sinew, embodying a woman who is both self-destructive and self-aware. Mackie (The Hurt Locker) is by contrast a still centre, but only because of what Tahir is holding inside.
As an actor, Paul Bettany always conveys deep intelligence, whether playing Charles Darwin in the 2009 Festival selection Creation or the more-than-human mind J.A.R.V.I.S. in Marvel's Avengers universe. He brings this intelligence to bear on his directing debut, crafting expressive images that sometimes destabilize, sometimes elevate Hannah's and Tahir's world.
Shelter immerses us fully in the experience of these two complicated and empathetic characters as it progresses toward its cathartic conclusion.