Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon,Richard Jenkins, Dodd Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg and Octavia Spencer.
Duration: 119 mins
The recent London Film Festival offered a smorgasbord of great films which made it tough to pick just a couple to see and review, but it was relatively easy to decide on Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water as the mandatory creature feature. I can summarise it simply as a great film by a great artiste, but what makes it qualify as a great movie? Well, let me just count the ways…
At its heart, this is a simple love story about a mute girl and a man-like-fish-god thing, which by the end of the film you’ll conclude is more of a noble fish-like-man-god person. Interestingly, these two main characters do not utter a word through-out their eloquent performance in this sublime feature length work of art -(ok, a full on Hollywood song and dance fantasy musical number doesn’t really count).
Our Heroine, Eliza Esposito, is a pitiful mute figure who barely exists at the fringe of lonely existence. She is spared complete and utter isolation by her friendship with a kindred spirit in form of Giles, an older, gay, father-figure of a neighbour, (who is admirably cast and performed by Richard Jenkins), and her loudmouth, co-worker / best friend, delightfully played by Octavia Spencer.
Likewise, the villains in this film do not disappoint. Michael Shannon is in awesome form as Strickland, a sadistic, bigoted disciple / caricature of ‘the man’ in early 60s Baltimore. His character was responsible for capturing and transporting the man-god-fish entity from deepest Amazonia to a clandestine USA lab, purportedly for further studies. Strickland’s entire motivation can be summed up in his oft expressed desire to ‘cut the damn thing open’, in order to study and weaponise it as part of the cold war race for military supremacy against Soviet Russia. However, his viscous intent is soon thwarted when Eliza decides to rescue the creature with the help of her friends, and further aided by Bob, a scholarly and earnest marine biologist, (skillfully played by Michael Stuhlbarg), whom it turns out was actually working with the Russians.
Suffice it to say within the first 10-15 minutes you’ll start to get a sense that this movie is more than a little out of the ordinary, e.g. when you glimpse Eliza’s bath time ritual of masturbating frenetically to an egg timer. Also, the unique creature in the lab is both monstrous and strangely human / sympathetic, albeit with amazing abilities that soon make it easy to see why the Amazon villagers considered it a god.
To say the film is a brilliant work of art would be an understatement, primarily because it playfully incorporates seemingly out of place events, characters and sensibilities in a tapestry that only works because it is in the hands of a supreme master of the art. Guillermo del Toro’s cinematic chops are well and truly on display in a work that is pure cinematic entertainment at its best. I won’t spoil the somewhat telegraphed surprise ending which somehow still works well even though you probably guessed it earlier in the story. An instant classic in my opinion and I won’t hesitate to give it full marks!
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