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New Release Review - SHELTER (DVD)

A homeless Nigerian man develops a romantic relationship with a heroin addict on the streets of New York.



Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Paul Bettany

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Mackie, Bruce Altman



Bettany dedicates his film to "the couple that lived outside my building". The fact that he's unable to name said couple provides more insight into the plight of the homeless than anything in his film.




Jennifer Connelly's IMDB page needs updating. Under 'trademarks' it notes her 'Curvaceous, buxom figure'. Connelly once boasted a figure that resembled something from classic Hollywood, leading to her being cast in mid 20th century set movies like The Rocketeer and Mulholland Falls, but the stick thin actress we now know barely resembles her old self. Connelly takes her weight loss to a whole new disturbing level in Shelter, and her husband, Paul Bettany, writing and directing here, is all too happy to show off the lengths his wife has gone to in order to portray a homeless heroin addict. As his camera peruses her sickening body, we can't help be reminded that this is a choice on Connelly's part and she can binge on donuts when shooting ends if she chooses. To quote The Sex Pistols, Bettany and Connelly's venture is a cheap holiday in other people's misery.
Connelly's Hannah is living on the streets of NYC because she suffered a breakdown after her husband was killed by terrorists while serving in Afghanistan. For reasons the film never really gets into, she left her home on the West Coast, selfishly leaving behind a young son. When her suicide attempt is foiled by homeless Nigerian immigrant Tahir (Anthony Mackie), the two strike up a friendship that quickly becomes romantic.
Bettany's film presents an all too simplistic view of life on the streets. You can't even call it that because the pair spend most of the film living inside a sumptuous penthouse apartment that's been inexplicably left unlocked by its vacationing owner. They drink wine and eat baguettes while discussing philosophical questions as though this were a sequel to My Dinner With Andre. When Tahir reveals that he was previously a member of the Nigerian Islamist terror cult Boko Haram, confessing to murdering men, women and children, Hannah reacts as if he merely left the toilet seat up. I'm all for second chances, but Boko Haram?
Connelly and Mackie give admirable performances that hint at the movie this might have been if its script contained more depth and insight than the paper thin one fashioned by Bettany here. At times, the film contradicts itself for the sake of cheap drama, like when Hannah's father (Bruce Altman) hangs up on her plea for help phone call despite having spent the past three years travelling to New York in search of his daughter. The final insult comes when Bettany dedicates his film to "the couple that lived outside my building". The fact that he's unable to name said couple provides more insight into the plight of the homeless than anything in his film.
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