By Liz Lopez

Rating: A+

Leave it to writer/director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Crimson Peak”) to infuse the romance genre with a story about a relationship set in the workplace between unexpected characters – a South American from the Amazon and another – a working gal who lives in Baltimore. The one line description on IMDb for “The Shape of Water” is just that, simple. But fans of del Toro’s work know that there is nothing simple about the story created by the filmmaker who co-wrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor (“Divergent,” “Game of Thrones”). For fans of films with a great story, yet know little about the award winning filmmaker (both in his native Mexico and internationally) – be prepared to view one of year’s best films for the complete production; from the story, to performances, fantastic music and cinematography with admirable aquatic scenes. I highly recommend viewing the film pre-film awards season. It should be nominated in various categories.   

It is possible to read plenty of articles about “The Shape of Water” after it competed in the Venice Film Festival and was a Special Presentation at the Toronto Film Festival. Yet reading those articles and actually experiencing this film in a cinema are two totally different things. This film is made for the big screen. The characters are individuals from different socio – economic classes; some are nice and sympathetic, while others are ruthless and monsters in our midst. While there is a character who does not look entirely like us in this film, this does not make him a monster. The story is brilliant as it is set in 1962 and relays what takes place in a top-secret government lab and also captures the “anti -this” or “anti – that” government sentiments, then and now. Fans of the filmmaker – yes, blood is spilled.

Sally Hawkins (“Blue Jasmine,” “Godzilla,” “Paddington”) is definitely due plenty of recognition for her lead performance as Elisa Esposito, a single lady who earns a living as part of the cleaning crew at the government lab. She is excellent as she conveys so much emotion with the expressions on her face and also physically when she is in a pleasurable or difficult situation, given that her character is mute. When she sees the Amphibian Man (Doug Jones, del Toro’s regular collaborator) from the Amazon while working her shift at the lab, there is no doubt from her body language that there is an instant connection and she is going to find out more about him. She has no reservation about sharing her lunch with him and later, introducing him to the music she loves.

Michael Shannon (“Nocturnal Animals,” “Mud”) is quite the force as the federal agent who is in charge of the Amphibian Man. Shannon is a villain in “The Shape of Water” with a capital V, as well as B for bully, both physically and verbally, at home and on the job. He certainly shows us a glimpse of the actions and mentality of the 1960s politics, as well as current governmental figures we are aware of.

Two other memorable film characters are Elisa’s protective friend from work Zelda (Octavia Spencer, fantastic as usual) and her loving neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins, always fabulous), a professional illustrator who has issues of his own, yet is very dedicated to Elisa in many ways. They are the everyday working folk among the monsters, creatures and foreign agents in this story.

The film also features good performances from Michael Stuhlbarg, David Hewlett, Nick Searcy, Stewart Arnott, Nigel Bennett and Morgan Kelly, among others.

Oscar winning composer, Alexandre Desplat (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), is in charge of the music throughout “The Shape of Water.” His choice of music for this film ranges from jazz to vintage musicals, as well as songs from Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, Carmen Miranda and Andy Williams, among his own.

The cinematography is by Dan Laustsen (“Crimson Peak,” “John Wick: Chapter 2”) is very engaging with the varied lighting and color for these vintage sets from the 1960s era.

There is some limited Russian dialogue that includes subtitles during the 123 minute film. The film has an R rating for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language.

“The Shape of Water” is now playing in New York City and opens in Los Angeles and Austin on Friday, December 8th, expanding to more cities thereafter.

Source: Fox Searchlight

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