Jennifer Connelly astounds in her husband Paul Bettany’s earnest directorial debut
Actor Paul Bettany is now best known as Jarvis and the Vision in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; a notable presence, he’s rarely given much to do, or much of any consequence at least. As writer and director of Shelter, he’s crafted a hard-hitting film about the plight of homeless people that won’t appeal to many comic book fans, but impresses by dint of its gritty, earnest tone.
Set in New York, Shelter depicts the daily grind of Hannah (played by Bettany’s wife Jennifer Connelly), a homeless woman who shuffles from shelter to gutter, begging for change and cigarettes on the streets behind a cardboard sign that reads ‘I used to be somebody.’ Despite her emaciated appearance, Hannah attracts the romantic attentions of Tahir (Anthony Mackie), an illegal immigrant who prevents her suicide bid. Hannah and Tahir break into the apartment of an affluent family on vacation, and enjoy a moment of respite from street-life. But Tahir’s health issues send the couple on a downward spiral that leads to a dangerous series of sexual liaisons, as Hannah attempts to find cash for Tahir’s medicines.
Mackie stars alongside Bettany in the Marvel movies, and Shelter could easily feel compromised by casting well-heeled, good-looking Hollywood performers as down-and-outs. But Connelly’s captivating work elevates the material several notches; radiating both desperation and hope in equal measure, Hannah’s situation is heartbreaking and real, and a scene where she cleans herself up after a degrading act of sexual violence is utterly indelible.
Bettany felt compelled to make Shelter by his guilt about the unknown plight of two vagrants who once slept outside his house, then vanished. Shelter feels like an act of penance for all involved, and Connelly’s powerful performance perfectly captures the anguish of a woman rendered all but invisible by poverty.
Digital release from Mon 14 Dec, on DVD from Mon 11 Jan.