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Rated 3.11 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Not All Drama and Intrigue
by James Colt Harrison

Although The Shape of Water has garnered 13 Oscar® nominations, it remains a relative box office flop, cashing in only a paltry $30 million in the USA. Perhaps the Academy Award ® notoriety will inspire people to go see this unusual film from director Guillermo del Toro. 

The thought of this film, with a theme of a woman having a romantic encounter with an alien sea creature, brought on memories of Universal’s classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon. With Oscar®-nominated Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) succumbing to the slimy charms of her suitor, you will either cringe at the thought or get overheated at the unusual hook-up. 

So how did our Sally get into this near-horror movie predicament? Filmmaker del Toro set the story back in 1962’s Cold War period when the Russians were out to “bury” the USA and we felt the same about them. At a secret high-security government laboratory where she works, Hawkins’ character Elisa is a lonely, mute, woman who works as a janitor with fellow companion Zelda (Oscar® -nominated Octavia Spencer for this role and Oscar® winner for The Help. It is at that facility where all the shenanigans take place.

Elisa cannot speak due to a childhood affliction. She has only one male friend to confide in, and that is artist Giles, played superbly by Richard Jenkins (Oscar-nominated for The Visitor). Considered a “loser” and apparently a recovering alcoholic, he has lost many jobs and is now serving as a savior and a platonic companion to Elisa. Jenkins has created a memorable character with personality quirks that seem real and genuine. He’s one of those actors whose quirks and character flaws engulf the screen.

Elisa and Zelda work in the secret lab and discover the government “asset” that is being held for experimentation under the direction of nasty, despicable, power-mad Richard Strickland, played by the magnificent Michael Shannon (Academy Award® nomination for Nocturnal Animals). Strickland is a man who never loses, and he is determined to dissect the amphibious creature and destroy it to keep it from falling into Soviet hands. This horrifies the two women.

Michael Stuhlbarg -- yet another magnificent character actor in this film --  plays a scientist (Dr. Robert Hoffstetler) who desperately wants to save the creature from destruction. He develops a scheme with the two women to save the Amphibian Man, played by Guillermo favorite Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth). Stuhlbarg, so outstanding as the understanding father in this year’s award-winning film Call Me by Your Name, is a definite asset to any film.

The Shape of Water is not all drama and intrigue. There are many funny scenes generated by the eye-popping moments involving Octavia Spencer and Sally Hawkins. Richard Jenkins also adds some levity to his role as the unfortunate Giles. And the explanation of how the creature and Elisa manage to be romantic is hilarious!

Director of Photography Dan Laustsen cleverly uses underwater lensing to paint scenes with light and movement.  He almost creates an underwater ballet scene with the creature and Hawkins. Del Toro cleverly takes advantage of the Fox studios archives and uses classic stars such as Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda and Alice Faye in some musical numbers that bring back memories, adding joy to the film.

(Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures and rated “R” for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language.)

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