This film is best discovered on your own and considered at leisure; an example of stark, unflinching beauty which will dwell long after the credits roll, coming out of left field from A Knight’s Tale’s Chaucer in fine voice.
In essence Shelter is a love story played out between two lost souls. Committed to celluloid by an emaciated Jennifer Connelly and stoically courageous Anthony Mackie, their relationship ebbs and flows against the backdrop of New York as a living breathing entity. It seems that Hannah and Tahir’s story is just one of thousands in this melting pot of a metropolis, where first-time director Paul Bettany uses location alongside the city itself in a visual collage, at once life-affirming yet soulless. Forever the distant relation lost at a family wedding.
From the moment that Tahir sees Hannah he is overwhelmed. This love story, which sees both actors constantly raise their game, is depicted as tumultuous, intimate, harrowing and all encompassing. Between the two it is Connelly who flexes her dramatic muscles most, consuming the film in a performance which some may find hard to watch. Similarly, Mackie gives us a fully formed character with darkness, depth and moments of brilliance.
By concentrating on these specific characters and their reasons for being street dwellers, Bettany is taking a contentious stand, passing comment in artistically blunt terms on the way this world works, not just America but all the nationalities which flow across its border. In a time when terrorism and the threat of imminent extinction has become commonplace, he shines a light on the one thing which stops everything from collapsing in upon itself. Namely love.
It may sound like the worst cliché and not one fit for expressing here but ultimately beyond the performances, locations, situations and hard questions sits a romantic. A man who believes in the redeeming power of requited love. How else do you explain the moments of idyllic expressionism amongst the unrelenting obstacles? Bettany finds light amongst the darkness with the skill of a seasoned veteran, never overplaying situations or showing more than necessary.
As I said before, Shelter is a hard watch. It asks questions which some would prefer remain unanswered. Notions given voice by two performances so far under the radar as to be almost invisible. Both complimenting each other without ego or contest visible on screen. For me it is reminiscent of Ironweed, an old Nicholson/Streep two-hander, itself a meditation on street life but taken from an acclaimed best seller. It’s an admirable companion piece to be sure, but carries the burden of too much studio polish.
For me Shelter is the better film. Depicting love as an emotion earned over time, fought for through adversity and engaged in with caution. And in some cases repented at leisure.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Paul Bettany
Written by: Paul Bettany
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Mackie
Country: USA / IMDB
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Shelter is out now on DVD and Digital in the UK