Beautiful, Engaging and Mesmerizing, ‘The Shape of Water’ May be 2017’s Best Film

The_Shape_of_Water_(film)Michael Shannon is a national treasure and we are not worthy of him.

“The Shape of Water” stars Sally Hawkins as a mute custodian worker living in 1962 Baltimore. When the secret government facility she works at brings in an aquatic creature from the Amazon, she befriends it and seeks to break it out. Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Octavia Spencer also star as Guillermo del Toro directs and co-writes.

I hadn’t seen a trailer for this but had just heard that it was classic, strange del Toro, and the buzz out of Toronto Film Festival and Venice was glowing. Knowing del Toro’s style and previous works and taking critical hype with grains of salt I walked into this film knowing very little what to expect; and I was blown away.

This film looks and sounds incredible. Set in del Toro’s version of 1960s Maryland the streets have a neon-noir feel and glow about them and are accompanied by the trumpet and piano musical background score to fit. The big-windowed apartments, the classic diners, the underground government labs, every room and location in this has its own style and feel and adds to an already engrossing experience.

Sally Hawkins’ Elisa is a mute, having had to have her vocal chords removed at birth. Unable to speak, Hawkins relies on her eyes and small reactions to get her characterization across and she does it masterfully. You can almost instantly tell what her character is like, mousy and far-too-innocent, and she deserves all the award nominations that are coming her way.

Like I began with, Michael Shannon is a true gem and always a pleasure to watch and same goes for Richard Jenkins. Shannon plays the film’s villain, a cruel Colonel, like only he can and from his initial entrance to his motives I couldn’t help but compare him to Christopher Lloyd’s Judge Doom from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” At times he feels like he belongs in a different film, but overall I think he worked.

Jenkins is warm and charming as Hawkins’ neighbor, a closeted gay artist. It is a role that is as heart-breaking as it is funny  and he adds a sense of gravitas to every scene he is in.

The film’s only true flaws are there is a scene that is decently abstract and jarring in its tonal shift and/or need to suspend disbelief, and some of the dialogue and visual cues-particularly towards the climax-are a little cheesy and heavy-handed.

I wouldn’t quite start throwing the m-word, but “The Shape of Water” does have brilliant stretches where it scrapes being a masterpiece. The production design is incredible, the score is mesmerizing, and the creature design is phenomenal (this is all even more impressive when you realize the film was made for under $20 million). Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins are all honors to watch and I will be telling everyone between now and February to check this one out; it is one of the finest films of 2017.

Critics Rating: 9/10

Fox Searchlight

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