Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water took home the Oscar for Best Picture of 2017 as well as garnering for wins for Best Director, Best Production Design and Best Score. It is deserving of its nominations and wins, although it would not have been my choice. If you have read my Ten Best Films of 2017, you know what my choice was. However, The Shape of Water is a very fine film about loneliness and how we cope with it. Sometimes loneliness is our only companion and we adjust to make room for it. Aside from being a bit too odd for my tastes in a couple of scenes, The Shape of Water is also a terrific fantasy film with a love story, some espionage added and one of the truly most diabolical villains of the year.
Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, a mute woman who works at a top secret research facility in the 1960’s. Her only friends are her gay neighbor and struggling artist, Giles (played wonderfully by Richard Jenkins) and her co-worker, Zelda Fuller (an equally great performance by Octavia Spencer). Zelda is always grousing about her husband and is lonely in her own way as she and her husband don’t appear to be close anymore and are simply going through the motions. Giles is alone in the world because of his sexual orientation and is afraid to come out to anyone that he is not friends with.
There is also the doctor, Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) who has his own secrets and is isolated because of them, which brings me to Richard Strickland, played with gleefully despicable zeal by Michael Shannon. Strickland is married with kids and how that was possible is anyone’s guess. Around his family he seems about as normal as he can be. It the workplace, he is as treacherous and cruel as anyone can be. When Strickland manages to capture and return to America an amphibian man (Doug Jones) the research facility is pretty much turned into a locked down military installation.
Elisa and Zelda, along with everyone else, are watched almost consistently, but that does not stop Elisa from taking her lunches into the containment room were the “beast” is being held. They form a very unlikely bond and eventually even fall in love, if you can believe that. This is a fantasy and a love story, first and foremost. This is about when Elisa decides she is going to steal the creature and turn him loose. There are other mitigating circumstances happening that make this difficult but that would contain spoilers and I don’t want to ruin the film for those who want to see this and it is worth seeing.
The look and feel of The Shape of Water has del Toro’s hands all over it. Beautifully shot with stunning cinematography, gorgeous production design all feature del Toro’s signature vivid imagination. As he has shown in Pan’s Labyrinth, both Hellboy films, Crimson Peak and almost every one of his previous films, del Toro can weave a fanciful story around just about anything. He makes it interesting and beautiful to look at. What makes The Shape of Water work is the fact that del Toro and Vanessa Taylor have written a poignantly sad and somewhat tragic script that really delves into the characters of the story. You see why they are isolated in the world and I felt sorry for them. But in their loneliness they have found strength in one another and that was well placed throughout the film.
The acting is superb. I had never seen Sally Hawkins in a film before, but as Elisa she is sad but hopeful. She does not want people’s pity and when she gets mad she lets it be known in a way only she and Zelda understand. Richard Jenkins has never let me down with his characters and shows why he is one of the best character actors in film today. Octavia Spencer is quite funny throughout the film but shows she has depth to her abilities as well. Michael Shannon, however, is truly a loathsome cad and I loved watching him every second. He simply tears into this character and goes for it, not sparing us one moment of his exuberant malevolence. You hate him but you can’t take your eyes off of his character.
The Shape of Water has a couple of scenes that seemed a bit forced that I thought were unnecessary but again to reveal them would be revealing spoilers which I do not like to do in my reviews. Some will not like the fairy tale aspect of del Toro’s film and some of it is a bit much at times. It is not for everybody. But overall, I went with the story and were it took me. Ultimately, this film was deserving of its accolades and I was pleased to see Mr. del Toro get his just desserts. He has made some great films and all of his hard work has finally paid off.
The Shape of Water – **** out of 5
The Shape of Water – Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual situations, violence and language
The Shape of Water – Run time is 123 minutes
The Shape of Water is now available on DVD, On Demand and subscription services. Believe it or not, it has been brought back to some theaters after its winning the Best Picture Oscar. Check your local listings for times, locations, pricing and availability of the various venues to watch this film.