The Miami Jewish Film Festival is set to unleash a torrent of movies over the next few weeks and Shelter is one that might keep audiences on the edge of their seat. The Israeli spy thriller is one of 62 films showing over the next few weeks. Opening with a Khalil Gibran quote (from Mirrors of the Soul), the film sets its mood quickly. The tension is expected for a film in this genre, but does it hold on as it needs to for 90 minutes?
The Miami Jewish Film Festival begins January 11th!
Shelter revolves around Naomi (Neta Riskin from Norman), a Mossad (think Israeli CIA) agent is sent on a mission to protect an informer. The informer is Mona, played by Golshifteh Farahani (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) who is recovering from plastic surgery that is meant to permanently protect her identity. The assignment is an easy one, meant to be a way for Riskin to return to duty after time off to recover from a tragedy.
Much of Shelter takes place in a safe room with Naomi and Mona. But a labyrinth of intrigue unfolds before them. Writer and director Eran Riklis lays out the path of Shelter calmly, cooly, letting the intrigue build as we learn a little bit more about everyone. For instance, Naomi briefly left Mossad after the death of her husband. An agent too, Naomi’s hubby took a bullet for her and left the woman a heaping bag of guilt. Naomi, as played by Riskin, is a highlight of the film, an intriguing and layered character.
Shelter is competent, cohesive, and capable.
As a director, Riklis’ earlier work is clear indication that he’s clever and has a wonderful sense for filmmaking. Shelter is more evidence of that. It is shot beautifully, from wide vistas to close-ups; lingering quiet to let moments become internal struggles. However, here Riklis seems to be torn between which movie to make. Do you go with crawling-with-tension spy thriller or character study supported by the two female leads? Either choice, if focused on, would be a good one. And those two things, expertly put together would make for a formidable film. But Shelter doesn’t focus either way enough.
There’s a great, paranoid sequence one minute, then a quiet, tender moment the next. There’s a borderline seductive romance, but only for a little while. The transitions are not jarring, but the shift is unreliable and often overrides what came before it. Just moments after paranoia, Mona is drawing me in with a story about her past. Separately, both sequences are great. Together, they have little effect on the other.
Shelter is competent, cohesive, and capable. At just over 90 minutes, the movie doesn’t pad itself with unnecessary scenes and moves along at a swift pace without feeling rushed. Shelter’s major problem is that it neither goes too far or tries to push the envelope farther. It’s mostly safe and by the numbers, which, on one hand, makes it an entertaining watch. On the other hand, Shelter doesn’t linger long after the credits in the mind. Like the characters in the story, the film is trapped by choices that have both helped and hurt. But the choices have left them riding along in the middle, a grey area, and Shelter lingers too long in that space too.