Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Shape of Water

THE SHAPE OF WATER (Guillermo del Toro, 2017)

The life of a mute cleaning woman in the early 1960s changes dramatically when she encounters the strange creature being studied in THE SHAPE OF WATER. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) found an amphibian man (Doug Jones) in the rivers of South America and brings this great discovery to an aerospace facility in Baltimore with the intention of using it in research to assist the U.S. in the space race with the Soviet Union. While working the late shift there, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) grows curious about this humanoid animal.

Injuries as an orphan have left Elisa unable to speak, but lacking a voice is no barrier to communicating with the amphibian man. Elisa feeds him hard-boiled eggs, plays him music, and teaches him signs. She is horrified by the abuse he receives from Strickland. When she overhears that the amphibian man is to be vivisected, Elisa is determined to break him out. She executes her plan with the help of her artist neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and, to her surprise, Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Russian mole posing as an American researcher.

As strange as it sounds, THE SHAPE OF WATER might be thought of as AM√ČLIE meets CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro’s ravishing film swirls together fantasy, romance, black-and-white Hollywood musicals, and old monster movies into a simple and oddly affecting love story. The film emphasizes the power of being seen and accepted as one is, even if in this instance half of the unlikely couple looks like the sort of abomination spoken of in legend to terrify children. Through the perspective of del Toro, whose fondness for monsters runs through his body of work, and Elisa, who can identify with feeling out of place, the amphibian man is not to be feared but empathized with. Alexandre Desplat’s lush score feeds the sense of longing that pumps through the lovelorn characters.

Hawkins grounds the film with the soft heart and dancer’s grace she brings to Elisa. THE SHAPE OF WATER hinges on her expressiveness. Listening and reacting are often said to be the most important parts of acting, and Hawkins does both beautifully as she manifests her emotions and thoughts through the looks she gives and the smoothness of her movements.

THE SHAPE OF WATER cuts to the feelings, working in broad strokes and bold colors. The visuals are drenched in gorgeous, storybook tones indicative of the time in which the film is set and its fairy tale qualities.

Grade: A

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