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Movie Review: ‘The Shape of Water’

“We can do nothing! I’m sorry! But this, this, this is just… it’s not even human…”
“If we / do nothing / neither are we.”

Note: No spoilers here.

Set in 1962 in the Baltimore, Maryland area, Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) helms a unique fantasy drama titled The Shape of Water that presents a mute woman’s experience with a captive water creature at a high-profile government facility. Del Toro takes great care in developing the characters along with raw emotions involving any beings who are marginalized and misunderstood.

Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky) portrays Elisa Esposito who cleans a secret research facility at work and lives above a movie theater close to her neighbor Giles, well played by Richard Jenkins (The Visitor). Elisa also gets some support from her co-worker Zelda, played by Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures), who can interpret the American Sign Language that Elisa uses. Giles also provides some key narration and a nice epilogue at the end of the two hour and three minute plot.

Once again, Michael Shannon (Man of Steel, Nocturnal Animals) aces the antagonist portrayal. His role as Colonel Richard Strickland puts him at the forefront of the research on this creature. His wife is played by Lauren Lee Smith in a limited role while Nick Searcy (Fried Green Tomatoes) portrays his superior General Frank Hoyt.

Richard’s home life is a far cry from his workplace activities, which grow increasingly intense. He feels so strongly about his actions, which creates a compelling villain who strongly believes that what he is doing is right and justifiable. His tools and intentions reflect the results behind his goals and desires.

Other characters have their wants as well, but the central character that connects them all is the creature in an amazing performance by Doug Jones who has frequently collaborated with del Toro. The creature’s tall and detailed design looks very similar to the creature design in the 1954 film The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Audiences never see any flashback or origin sequences of this creature (a.k.a. the “Asset”) and just have to believe when the scientists and workers at the government research facility say he’s “from a South American river.” Michael Stuhlbarg (The Post) has a key role as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler who provides for and seeks opportunities that are essential to the plot.

David Hewlett (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) plays Richard’s assistant/co-worker Fleming in a bit of casting that’s a bit distracting because he looks and acts so much like a younger Bradley Whitford. Morgan Kelly (A History of Violence, The Lookout) portrays the manager of a local pie restaurant.

The screenplay, co-written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, has fairy tale similarities and espionage themes that combine nicely with the color palette of the Cold War/space race era. It’s a bit predictable at times, but packs in effective revelations and subtle foreshadowing. It’s also a straight forward approach with constant, but tolerable senses of danger and tension.

The balanced musical score by Alexandre Desplat enhance the action, romance and extraordinary very well while including some unique touches adding whistling (by Desplat himself) to key movements. Some nostalgic musical touches include a dance homage to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers from the 1936 film Follow the Fleet.

The Shape of Water, a Fox Searchlight release, is a very well-rounded film from a great cast and crew. The performance, visual effects, plot, direction, set design and other functions all create balance that strengthens the overall work. Audience experience almost every emotion as the appealing visuals paint a compelling picture.

This fantasy drama come recommended and is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language. The Shape of Water won the The Golden Lion Award at the 2017 Venice Film Festival. A novelized adaptation of this film, written by del Toro and Daniel Kraus, will be released on February 27, 2018.

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