Visually stunning and beautifully acted, writer-director Guillermo Del Toro’s fairytale love story shows that one can find happiness in anyone — or anything — and does so masterfully.
Set against a 1960’s US-Soviet cold-war backdrop, mute cleaning lady Eliza Esposito (played by Sally Hawkins) falls in love with a human-like aquatic creature (Doug Jones) trapped as a test subject in a secret US scientific facility headed by compellingly malevolent government official Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon).
Hawkins’ performance as Eliza ironically speaks volumes. Without needing to utter a word, her ‘loud’ sign language, facial expressions, telling gazes and perfect timing put the viewer right inside her head. Shannon is equally riveting as Strickland, bringing a sense of dominance to a villain whose no-nonsense mantra has everyone quaking in their seats.
The real treasures, however, are among the supporting line-up. Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg are fantastic as Eliza’s colleague and friend, her neighbor, and a US-Soviet scientist/spy respectively, as they balance their own unique and interesting sub-plots with their role as comic relief.
For a movie that runs to 123 minutes, the plot felt weirdly rushed in places, while in others the story drags, and one can’t help feeling like there were a few scenes that ended up on the cutting-room floor when they might have served the movie well, or that things could have played out differently and in a more elegant manner. The first two acts of the film are captivating and make the audience ask the right questions, but toward the movie’s climax, everything plays out a little too predictably.
“The Shape of Water” won 2018’s Academy Award for Best Movie. Did it deserve it? When you look at the lineup it was up against, the answer would have to be “Not really.” But the magical world Del Toro has created is definitely worth diving into.
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