It is all too easy to look past the faces of the homeless and see just the dirt, the rags and the state of a life unfulfilled. But behind these woebegone visions of a thwarted prosperity lie stories that may not be that much different from our own. Here, on the wintry streets of New York, two lost souls find a passing comfort with each other, although they are as oblivious of their respective past lives as that of the casual onlooker. Hannah is a beautiful but emaciated heroin addict; Tahir a Nigerian immigrant whose visa has expired. She is despondent, suspicious and angry; he is philosophical, courteous and optimistic. But then desperate circumstances throw the most unlikely of people together…



Mean streets: Jennifer Connelly after who she used to be


Shelter is dedicated to “the couple who lived outside my building.” These simple words almost pack a greater resonance than the film itself, which, marking the directorial debut of the actor Paul Bettany, is maybe perhaps a little too cinematic for its own good. Bettany has worked with some of the greats – Peter Weir, Ron Howard, Lars von Trier, Jean-Marc Vallée, J.C. Chandor – and their artistry has not been lost on him. The director has certainly equipped himself with some top talent. He has cast his wife Jennifer Connelly as Hannah (who shed 25 pounds from her already slim frame) and the always-reliable Anthony Mackie as Tahir. Both are at the top of their form. The music, photography and editing are also top-notch. 


It’s a heart-breaking tale, with Bettany’s free-flowing style punctuated with poignant details: a cop taking unnecessary offence to Tahir’s innate politeness, Hannah setting up a sign that says ‘I Used To Be Someone’ and the daily humiliation of scouring dumpsters for food and bedding. Yet, had Bettany trusted his material more, he might not have felt it necessary to flex his directorial muscles quite so conspicuously. A simpler approach would have reaped dramatic dividends. Even so, it’s a distinctive, shocking and absorbing film that dares to tackle a subject seldom explored by the cinema.




Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Mackie, Bruce Altman.


Dir Paul Bettany, Pro Robert Ogden Barnum, Paul Bettany, Katie Mustard and Daniel Wagner, Screenplay Paul Bettany, Ph Paula Huidobro, Pro Des Tania Bijlani, Ed John F. Lyons, Music James Lavelle, Costumes Emma Potter.


Bifrost Pictures/The Bridge Finance Company-Arrow Films.

101 mins. USA. 2014. DVD Rel: 11 January 2016. Cert. 18.