Shelter (2015)

  • Director – Paul Bettany
  • Starring – Jennifer Connelly & Anthony Mackie
  • Writer – Paul Bettany
  • Year – 2015
  • Running Time – 105 minutes

 Shelter JC

The final title card of Shelter, Paul Bettany’s first foray as a writer/director, dedicates the film ‘for the couple which lived outside of my building’. The couple disappeared after Hurricane Sandy and to this day, neither Bettany nor his wife and star of Shelter, Jennifer Connelly, know what became of them. This card sets the scene for what is to come, a powerful though at times problematic, tale of love, dignity, and survival on the streets of New York.

We meet our couple, as they do, on the streets. Tahir (Anthony Mackie) is a Nigerian musician with an expired visa, while Hannah (Connelly), is a depressed and suicidal heroin addict. Connelly’s performance is impressively physical while Mackie is more restrained. However, you see dedication from them both. They say if you look into someone’s eyes you can see their world, and that is clear here. Hannah’s are jittery, darting and fearful, while Tahir tries to project strength and security but underneath there is pain, history and at times terror. Hannah begrudgingly lets a bond develop between the pair, which provides support and safety to both, but also becomes emotionally burdensome.

Bettany shows real promise as both a scriptwriter and director. His direction is unobtrusive, as he allows deeply personal exchanges between the couple, plus moments of harsh realities, as well as the passage of time, all to play out quietly within the frame. A less confident director would have cut to close-ups to underscore the point, but Bettany prefers to let his camera linger and has confidence the viewer sees what he sees.   His script is both reflective yet respectful of the couple, and much like their relationship, it is guarded in how much information it reveals, and it is clear that trust needs to be earned before we and indeed they, can expect to hear a level of honesty.


While a necessarily somber tale, at times the tone darkens perhaps more than is needed and occasionally dives (literally) into full-on melodrama.  Though Bettany just about keeps you on board, thanks in large part to Paula Huidobro’s cinematography, which contrasts the raw reality of life on the streets, against the beauty of New York.

Bettany’s view of homelessness occasionally feels uncomfortable, but not for the right reasons. As the film unfolds, we learn more about how both ended up on the streets, which from one side, strangely isolates you from the couple, at the exact moment when it should pull you in. This, when coupled with a crass statement from Hannah earlier in the narrative, undercuts the film’s overall premise, which never really gets to the heart of the social economic problems which fuel homelessness, preferring to take a slightly fantastical viewpoint instead.

However, these grumbles aside, the film does a lot more right than it does wrong, and where it succeeds is in the relationship between Hannah and Tahir which feels raw, believable and inter-dependent. Bettany does an impressive job of highlighting the stark realities of homelessness but falls short of tackling, in a relatable way, the scourge of poverty and its potential to drag anyone of us out of our houses and onto the streets.


Review by Will Malone

If you liked Shelter, then try Wild.

4 thoughts on “Shelter (2015)

    • To quote Empire magazine, 3 stars is a recommendation. Lots to like here, but it does go a little of course. Would be keen to hear your thoughts.

    • that the changes were forced by the White House and that made the child determined to ‘get rid of President Ob2#;.&m8a17a” It turns out that the complainant was the politician’s grandson and we both know how kids tailor their words to reflect the wishes of their elders, don’t we? What I’d love to ask the politician is this: would you rather your grandson eat fast food from McDonalds and Burger King or healthy fresh, locally grown food? What bugs me about conservatives is that they get so wrapped up in their hatred for Obama (or whomever) that their emotions over-power common sense.

  1. You asked for thoughts from that first poster so… I decided to speak for them in their absence since I do have something to say.

    I enjoyed this film and was happy to see a positive review. I am not surprised at all that some more widely publicized critics scored it negatively as most films that deal with such subject matter are too difficult for a “mainstream” (ack!) audience to fully appreciate. I don’t like to draw any lines that marginalize or play on stereotypes but then again, I didn’t draw these lines. I’m just sort of retracing what was already there in order to scribble outside of them a little.

    I feel like many critics will play up their own objectivity and the general role that objectivity plays in reviewing while failing to realize that it is the ability to relieve oneself of this burden that allows for art to be fully appreciated. If a critic stays too objective, they will miss a great deal of the impact that an object of art can have on a subject, a distinct personality. I would love to read more critiques that allow for the critic to fully expose who they are and let their personality speak to their audience instead of trying to encapsulate more people into their wide, generalized viewpoints and opinions.

    Ha! Here I am writing a critique on the act of critiquing and posting it to a critics blog. What has this world come to? So I will remove the hypocrisy and give you some of my thoughts. This is a deeply felt and strongly imagined film that showcased two actors and a writer/director coming intimately into contact with each other. Yes, there are some obfuscations both intentional and not but the only point at which this film lost me was when Connelly pulled down her pants and injected into her… thigh? That was totally unnecessary. The only reason her character would do that would be to hide the injection wound and the only person she would feel the need to hide that from happens to be standing right in front of her watching. I suppose if the film is just following what that character (Connelly) had intended to do before the other character (Makie) entered the room in order to display the depth of her depravity as well as the strength of her devotion to the other character, then this makes some sort of sense. But if this is the case, then it slips up telling the audience that this is what its intentions are.

    All the other graphic scenes were fine in my opinion and stayed in contact with the characters and their particular emotional demonstrability. I groaned slightly at the “terrorist” revelations but I don’t agree that these are “overly fantastical” places from which the characters can enter into their present states as the film opens. Perhaps they are “overly dramatized” but this is a film and is classified as a drama.

    I can understand how this film and its relevance would be easy to miss if watched from an overly objective viewpoint that is trying to speak to a wide audience. But this goes back to my earlier point: why must an art piece like this be sacrificed on the altar of widespread opinion? I think a critic should be able to speak their mind and heart and that public acclaim is overrated by large publishers in that particular arena. People should be asked to evolve by the critic, the critic should never be asking the people for praise.

    I think it is a shame that critics and the newspapers (online publishers etc.) they work for must cater to their audiences in order to sell. People should be more ready to step out of their comfort zones and realize that critiques are not news stories but, hopefully, well-thought opinions. As I said, it’s a shame and yes, this is my opinion. But that’s all anyone has to offer really, plus my opinion is a freaking good one. Please do not think that this post in any way reflects my views of your critiquing in particular. I just happened to click on your review first and since there was a place for me to type, I did. It also helped that you liked this film and I agreed with you 😉 Take care.

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