I read some reviews that Paul Bettany's directoral debut was a series of unfortunate events that tumbled excessive misery on Tahir (Anthony Mackie) and Hannah (Jennifer Connelly). Unfortunately, I found their fight against various agencies and systems far too believable. Each event flows into the next, never in a way that felt jarring or making me think "oh, come on!" by straining credibility. Bettany also wrote the screenplay, which revealed a depth of talent I don't think many realize. I didn't.
Hannah and Tahir come from radically different backgrounds but find themselves in the same place: homeless and in need of comfort and protection. They offer that protection to each other after very tentative, very tender moves toward trust. Connelly is virtually unrecognizable as an emaciated junkie, and Bettany uses her physique as another way of telling her story. She plays Hannah has broken yet able to fight because of her determination to stay with Tahir. I've only ever known Mackie thought his work with Marvel. Here he is subdued and thoughtful, with a past darkness that drives his need for redemption, some of which he finds with Hannah. With echoes of Jude the Obscure, they refuse to compromise their relationship, even when it means certain choices are more difficult to make.
This is not an easy film, in part because of brilliant performances, but that difficulty is leavened by a bittersweet love story, the likes of which I cannot recall. It's also a gorgeous character study, where Bettany gives as much attention to each character separately as he does to the couple together, which can be a tricky balance when characters are changed or subsumed by a relationship. His choice of angles, styles, and music add depth to moments when there is no dialogue, and he isn't afraid to let a shot go long when a few key decisive moments warrant extra attention. It's a brave choice, forcing you not to look away, when shorter scenes would have been easier for the viewer to dismiss or avoid connecting with.
I recommend this to anyone who feels in need of something fresh and challenging, and who would like to be rewarded with a great blend of directing, acting, and story. I hope to see more director efforts from Bettany.