A film by Paul Bettany
In NYC, the homeless are a huge problem. If we’re being honest, most of us ignore them or wave them off and go about our lives. Paying $5 for a cup of coffee but turning our noses up at giving spare change to a person in need. It’s a cultural problem. It’s an epidemic that we have to face rather than pretend doesn’t exist. In Paul Bettany‘s brilliant directorial debut, SHELTER, we are brought into the lives of two homeless people who could not seem more different on the surface.
Tahir is a Nigerian immigrant making ends meet, whatever that means for a man who lives on the streets, by drumming on buckets in the park. He stumbles upon Hannah, a woman alone, gaunt, drug addicted, desperate to end it all. Tentatively, Hannah allows Tahir to be her protector and partner. The two fight their demons as a pair, struggling to keep their heads above water among the dangers of illness, judgement, the rules of the NYC shelter system, and the night. As the pair become closer, their stories become the anchors that keep them together but could just as easily tear them apart.
Bettany‘s beautiful script comes from real life inspiration. Two homeless individuals, one black man and one white woman, lived outside his apartment in Tribeca. Each morning he would greet them until hurricane Sandy rolled into town. Bettany never saw them again. SHELTER was inspired by his longing to create the story of these two people who had now disappeared completely. Working with the Homelss Coalition NYC, he and Jennifer Connelly, who also happens to be his wife, learned what life is like for the more than 50,000 men, women, and children that slip through the cracks of a very broken system. With the gap between the rich and the poor widening at a pace that’s out of this world, this population is only going to grow exponentially as the months and years roll on. The script is incredibly bold and totally raw. Issues of faith and philosophy, human connection, and anonymity all come into play in a perfect storm of story-telling.
Anthony Mackie brings Tahir to life with a subtle power. He has a confidence and gentleness that is a gorgeous balance to Jennifer Connelly‘s more manic survivalist existence. Her effortless portrayal of Hannah will haunt you. The chemistry between Mackie and Connelly is played at the perfect pace as the story glides along. Both give a physically unafraid and impactful performance. You truly believe the two need one another to survive their own emotionally draining pasts. As one is introduced as caregiver and the other more victim, the film slowly and poetically evolves and the two switch places. Once again, as a directorial debut, this is an immaculate first go and should not go unnoticed. SHELTER will both bring you hope and ravage your heart. With a seductive score, effective script, and outstanding cast, the film will draw you in and perhaps cause you to lift up your head from your phone and pay attention a bit more often.
SHELTER comes to theaters today.
Written and directed by Paul Bettany
Produced by Robert Ogden Barnum, Paul Bettany, Katie Mustard, Daniel Wagner
Starring Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Mackie
Hannah and Tahir come from two different worlds. But when their lives intersect, they’re at the same place: homeless on the streets of New York. How did they get there? As we learn about their past, we begin to understand that to have a future, they need each other. There are more than 50,000 homeless people living on the streets and in the shelters of New York City. To most of us they are nameless and faceless, and occasionally a nuisance. But every single person has a story. And Hannah and Tahir are no different. And theirs is a story of loss, love, hope and redemption.