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The Shape of Water

Updated: Jan 27

The definition of any great filmmaker is their ability to defy your expectations when you sit down in a movie theater. My assumptions paled compared to the reality of Guillermo del Toro's brilliant new film, THE SHAPE OF WATER.

I'd seen the posters and a couple trailers. I assumed I was in for a sci-fi flick about a cleaning lady falling for a creature from the black lagoon, held by some bad guys.

So wrong.

del Toro has created something so wholly original and inventive that every scene of the movie holds surprises. The world depicted looks like the late fifties/early sixties in a cold war, northeast US, but its been elevated into something different.

We meet mute Elisa Esposito, a cleaning woman in a top secret government science facility. She's played by Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) in an Academy Award nominated performance. Hawkins and del Toro have created an incredible character in Elisa. She never speaks a word in the film, but Hawkins creates a frankly sexual, bold, funny, strong woman that you care about instantly.

Elisa lives directly above a huge old fashioned movie theatre and her best friend lives next door. Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, Let Me In) is Giles, an aging advertising artist who finds his craft becoming antiquated and his options in life shrinking. He and Elisa live through the classic movies on TV and in the movie palace below their feet. Jenkins has been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and he deserves it, he's funny and heartbreaking.

Elisa's friend and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer, nominated for Best Supporting Actress) has learned sign language and is the non-stop voice for both of them, sharing wisdom and plenty of humor in the massive science facility where they both pull the night shift.

When a newly discovered, incredible creature arrives at the facility, he's accompanied by the prod wielding, candy chewing fierce agent Strickland (perfectly played by Michael Shannon). Strickland lives the American dream in his mind, sees the exotic amphibian man creature as a chance to beat the Russians in the cold war and treats the creature with unending cruelty.

Michael Stuhlbarg is Dr. Hoffstetler, a compassionate scientist who sees the creature as nearly human and highly intelligent.

If my assumptions were correct going in, this would have been the classic 1950's monster movie, with good guys and bad guys battling for the monster with predictable results.

del Toro has no interest in the predictable.

He takes this premise and tilts it all slightly askew.

Elisa is drawn to the creature and begins communicating with it. Her lack of voice is suddenly a gift, as she's more adept at unspoken communication.

Words are learned, trust is built.

The creature is a fantastic blend of CGI and live work by Doug Jones, who played the Abe Sapien creature in del Toro's "Hellboy II" and the Pale Man in "Pan's Labyrinth". Jones doesn't move like a human, and his creature is believable and fascinating.

The last half of the film is an incredible blend of Cold War espionage, old fashioned movie romance, science fiction and suspense, all woven into an incredible fable by writers del Toro and Vaneesa Taylor (Nominated for Best Original Screenplay).

Its incredible to look at and listen to from its mysterious opening scene to its last moments.

This isn't a film for children. Its sexuality is frank and graphic and the script is sharp and often littered with hilarious and colorful language.

The dialogue is fantastic. Consider the opening narration from Jenkins character Giles:

"If I spoke about it - If I did - Would I tell you about her? The princess without voice. Or perhaps I would just warn you, about the truth of these facts. And the tale of love and loss. And the monster, who tried to destroy it all."

Great start, right?

As great as that set up is, it pales in comparison to the brilliant fantasy that follows.

THE SHAPE OF WATER is del Toro's best film and instantly one of my all time faves, earning a spot in my all time Top 10 films and an A+.

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