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It would be easy to make fun of “Shelter” since it’s built around what would have to be the most attractive homeless couple inn America.

But writer-director Paul Bettany’s first film is no laughing matter, and its leads can’t be blamed for their looks. Indeed, both actors bring confused dignity and downright anguish to their roles, and if Bettany eventually begins piling the woes on a bit heavy, they make you believe that as dark as things get, they’re still more than possible.

Anthony Mackie stars as Tahir, a Nigerian immigrant whose visa has expired, who scrapes by drumming on plastic tubs on the streets of New York City. After a short stint in jail, he returns to the alley where he sleeps to find most of his possessions and clothes gone.

He later sees a homeless woman with a jacket that belonged to him and begins to follow her. This is Hannah (Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly, who’s married to Bettany), a heroin addict who turns tricks to feed her habit. Tahir follows her and, eventually, she confronts him; all he wants is his jacket back, but he realizes she has something dire in mind. He intervenes and an uneasy friendship is formed.

She starts sharing his alley spot and eventually, despite their circumstances and knowing nothing about one another, a romance blossoms. After a while, they stumble upon an empty, fancy home whose owners are out of town. There they get to know one another’s dark pasts, which binds them even closer.

Unfortunately, they soon find themselves back out on the street, just in time for a rough winter.

Both actors shine, and it’s pretty much a two-person film, but it’s Connelly who’s most tortured and affecting. Even as Hannah tries to stand up, she gets knocked back down again and again. Sadly, her plight rings too true.

tlong@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/toomuchTomLong

‘Shelter’

GRADE: B

Not rated

Running time: 105 minutes

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