If I had more stars to give “The Shape of Water,” you would see an entire constellation attached to this review.
One of the most beautiful and beautifully wrought films of 2017, it’s no wonder this movie has earned raves from critics and audiences alike. Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy”) has written and directed a science-fiction fable – sort of a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” -- set in the past that’s a timeless morality tale about the abuse of power and power of love.
Del Toro himself wrote the screenplay along with Vanessa Taylor to tell this poignant tale of the disenfranchised and the misunderstood.
Sally Hawkins is Elisa, who is mute in this story set during the Cold War in Washington, D.C. She works as a custodian along with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) in a high-security government facility.
Elisa’s best friend is Giles, a kindly commercial artist with whom she shares a secret: An amphibious man (played by Doug Jones, who also played Abe Sapien in “Hellboy”) is being kept in a lab where she works. And she is afraid that brutal government agent Strickland (Michael Shannon, on a neighboring screen in “12 Strong”) who is in charge of keeping Amphibian Man (that’s how the character is referenced in the credits,) who looks a lot like the titular character from the “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
Strickland does not understand Amphibian Man, and this infuriates him. He thinks of all kinds of excuses to torture the hapless biped, who has drawn the attention of the Russians.
“You may think, ‘That thing looks human,’” Strickland says. “Stands on two legs, right? But … we're created in the Lord's image. You don't think that's what the Lord looks like, do you?”
“He's bleeding. What happened?” asks Hofstetler, a horrified scientist who realizes just how brutal Strickland is. “It’s an animal, Hoffstetler. Just keepin' it tame,” the sadistic Strickland replies.
In the meantime, Elisa begins a rudimentary form of communication with Amphibian Man. They understand each other almost immediately, and the friendship transitions into something more as Amphibian Man’s life becomes more imperiled.
Themes of bigotry, oppression and romance are interwoven throughout the movie. Its gorgeous look is mind-blowing – watch how the colors and environments change with the appearance of various characters. The entire ensemble is wonderful, but Hawkins’ nonverbal Elisa has the biggest voice, so to speak.
Here’s a reminder to parents and grandparents: This is not family fare, and it is justifiably rated “R.”
Now grownups can see what is taking shape as a major Oscar contender.