Shelter has its moments. However, it wastes all of its potential by not properly developing its storyline or characters.
Trigger Warning(s): Movie contains needle use and vomiting
Tahir (Anthony Mackie), a Nigerian undocumented immigrant, has been homeless for who knows how long now. But, after getting out of prison, he tries to better himself. Especially since, with him being undocumented, he can’t afford run-ins with the law. Not in terms of pursuing getting assistance for work, shelter, and things like that. No, instead it is by taking care of this woman who took his jacket. Said woman, Hannah (Jennifer Connelly), is a heroin addict. One who ran away from everything she had and ended up on the streets.
Together, their relationship evolves from him stalking her to them becoming close friends. Maybe even lovers. Yet, old demons dealing from their pasts threaten this mutually beneficial bond. One which helps Hannah get sober and gives Tahir some form of recompense.
The Conversations About Religion
Tahir is a Muslim and Hannah could be considered agnostic. With that, there is a bit of back and forth of how to reconcile faith with the lives both live. How can a merciful god allow them to be homeless? How does one reconcile science with religion?
Which, I should note, isn’t as deep as I am making it seem. However, that conversation reminds you that neither of these two are necessarily idiots. Their homelessness has nothing to do with their capability. More so it is due to reason never really fleshed out.
It’s a Meandering Mess
This is a difficult movie to sit through. Mostly because it seems unsure what it wants to be, represent, or where it wants to go. Much less, how it wants to handle our two leads? Should they make this a romance? Perhaps a story of mutual redemption? Every 20 to 30 minutes it changes up how it wants to handle the movie and it gets worse with time. Especially as you realize what is noted below.
It Has No Intentions of Following Up On Signficant Details For Development
After what is noted in the highlighted portion, we learn about the past of both Hannah and Thair. Hannah, we learn, used to be a kept woman. She was someone who lived in a fancy home, had a husband, but he died while on duty. At a military checkpoint which was hit by a terrorist attack. Thus beginning her downward spiral.
Now, what makes this movie ridiculous, and shows its inability to follow through, is Tahir’s backstory. You see, Tahir was a man who lost it all, likely because of the military or other bad people. Because of that, he joined Boko Haram. He admits to killing women, children, and bombing military checkpoints. Like the ones Hannah’s husband died in.
In normal circumstances, you’d think this would be the end of their friendship. If not, at least, something which leads to both being further explored. Like, how does one go from a mansion to the streets? How did Hannah pick up a heroin addiction, much less found herself willing to abandon the family she had left?
Then, with Tahir, you can tell this Boko Haram thing was made to make him more complicated. You know, to not make him this savior but a guy looking to repent for what he did. However, there is this need to understand his decisions past “Islam is a beautiful flower, but sometimes it needs thorns” jive. I mean, what really led him to go from grieving his wife and son to killing other people’s wives and sons? Also, once more, how could someone who did all that end up in NY with a visa?!
Overall: Negative (Skip It)
Let’s add things up. When it comes to being homeless, while there likely is some form of authenticity, it often is treated as a reset button. One which usually gives the movie the opportunity to find a different direction to go in. Often times putting a halt to whatever storyline was in progress. On top of that, when it comes to the things you crave to know like, “Why are these two people homeless?” you get little to nothing. Hannah’s downfall has a chasm of information missing and Tahir? Despite his eye-opening revelation, there is no real follow-up.
Hence the Negative label. For while the suffering is clear, the reasoning behind it, besides being homeless, is often swept aside. To the point that often being homeless is treated like a punishment for bad decisions. Like a karmic recompense if you will. That is, versus it being due to lack of jobs, programs to set up housing, or anything which would make you believe this movie wants you to see these two people get better. For while lack of housing is a focus, you don’t see them do anything but begging. Albeit Tahir does perform but there is no push for tax deductible work.
Thus pushing the idea that, while these two have had bright futures at one point, they are squandering it. For they are just too lazy or unwilling to make their lives better. So, that is why they are on the street. Leaving you with almost two hours given to a film as lost and meandering as its leads.