The Shape of Water
dir Guillermo del Toro
scr Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
prd J Miles Dale, Guillermo del Toro
with Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones, David Hewlett, Nick Searcy, John Kapelos, Morgan Kelly, Lauren Lee Smith, Brandon McKnight
release US 1.Dec.17, UK 16.Feb.18
17/US Fox 1h59
The Shape of Water
A fishy friend: Hawkins and Jones

jenkins shannon spencer
venice film fest
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro lets his imagination run wild with this engaging and also rather dark romantic adventure. It's a riot of clever production design, witty dialog and heartfelt emotion that carries the audience on a journey along with the vivid characters. The whimsical family-movie tone sits a bit oddly alongside the film's resolutely adult-oriented touches, but for grown-ups this is a fairy tale full of wonder.

In 1962 Baltimore, mute cleaner Elisa (Hawkins) works in a government aerospace facility. Her closest friends are artist neighbour Giles (Jenkins) and straight-talking colleague Zelda (Spencer), both of whom, like Elisa, are sidelined because of who they are. Then one day at work, scientist Bob (Stuhlbarg) and menacing security man Strickland (Shannon) arrive with a top-secret fish-man (Jones) found in South America. As Elisa discovers that she has an emotional connection with him, the Russians are plotting to scupper the American research programme. So Elisa asks her friends to help launch a rescue.

Intriguingly, del Toro resists letting this turn into a thriller. Despite some startlingly violent touches and a proper sense of peril, the film has a romantic storybook tone that keeps everything intimate. As a result, it feels like a magical journey for a marginalised woman who finally has a sense of purpose. And as he recounts the odyssey of a misunderstood amphibian in the big city, del Toro also nods to the period's ingrained sexism, racism, homophobia and precarious politics.

Hawkins brings her usual pigeon-toed, shyly grinning persona to the role, then deepens it with dramatic energy to add focus to Elisa's yearning and engage audience's sympathies. Jenkins and Spencer get all the best lines and have a lot of fun in some tricky scenes, but also underscore the film with an emotional honesty. While Stuhlbarg is engagingly sympathetic, Shannon is cruelty personified. He's perhaps a product of his time, but that's no excuse.

Visually, the film is rich and detailed. As the literal fish out of water, Jones creates a powerfully compelling character rendered so seamlessly that we can't see where costume ends and digital whizzery begins. And del Toro's most crowd-pleasing touch may be to have Giles switch away from the grim nightly news to watch another classic Hollywood musical, a sensibility that seeps all the way through the story into Elisa's fantasies. It's a gorgeous touch that may make this film a classic in its own right.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 31.Aug.17 vff

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall