Review by C.J. Bunce

With the unique signature of the only director that could pull off a film like The Shape of Water, have no doubt it is worthy of a parade of Oscar recognition.  As for direction The Shape of Water is a triumph for Guillermo del Toro’s sheer bravery in choices.  As for acting it’s the perfect mix of the four top acting tiers: a superb performance in a challenging role by a lead actor and actress, and a superb performance in a challenging role by a supporting actor and actress.  del Toro’s story, too, is novel, soaring and magnificent, even if it may be derivative of many fairy tales, folklore, and past fantastical films.  In fact it’s del Toro’s intelligent reimagining of stories from Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast on a backbone of films like King Kong, Splash, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon that lends some familiarity and authenticity to its story and characters to touch audiences.  Ultimately the finely crafted assemblage is greater than the sum of its parts, forming the stuff of those classic best pictures of the year of decades past.

The idyllic early 1960s is stripped of its patina to a very real and difficult world beyond the happy families as seen in the slick marketing and television shows of the day, at least for the average person trying to find their way.  A mute woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) work in a quasi-government corporate facility as janitors.  When a Fed named Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings a gilled, man-like creature (Doug Jones) he captured in South America to the facility for study, Elisa covertly befriends it.  When Strickland and his military cronies decide it’s time to vivisect the creature, Elisa enlists a friend in her apartment complex (Richard Jenkins) to try to get the creature to safety, with even Zelda and a lab researcher (Michael Stuhlbarg) joining along in her plan.

The tragedy of Oscar season is the lack of nomination for Doug Jones, the modern Man of a Thousand Faces (and bodysuits), who has played every character in commercials from McDonald’s Mac Tonight to one of the terrifying Gentlemen of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Marvel’s Silver Surfer, to the star of del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, and ghosts in his Crimson Peak and Abe Sapien in his Hellboy series, and he is currently headlining Star Trek Discovery, again in prosthetics.  It is a truth that no other actor has the experience and physical skill and talent required to perform in the roles he is sought out for, and his “Amphibian Man” in this film is a showcase of his singular grace, elegance, and style.  His understanding of animal movements and reactions is impeccable.  Sally Hawkins, seen in countless performances (a standout in Fingersmith, Layer Cake, Tipping the Velvet, Blue Jasmine, where she was also nominated for an Oscar, and Never Let Me Go, among other films, and even a bit part in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace), perfectly captures a life in silence and a hopeless romantic.  Her piercing stares at Strickland nearly slice him in two.  Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures, Snowpiercer, Medium, The X-Files) plays Zelda for laughs for the most part, and her ramblings about her lazy husband and her support of Elisa are wonderful.  Richard Jenkins (Silverado, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Witches of Eastwick, Wolf, Absolute Power, Into Thin Air, Jack Reacher, Bone Tomahawk, LBJ) takes on a role as neighbor Giles, a part like nothing audiences have seen him play before, a down on his luck ad man, he is boxed in from gaining the love that he seeks.  del Toro makes it possible for each moviegoer to see himself/herself in each of these characters.

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