Del Toro Shaping More Than Water with Latest Fairy TaleDec 15, 2017
Movie Review: Del Toro is Shaping More Than Water with Latest Fairy Tale
By Rob Morris
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins
Photos courtesy of Fox Searchlight
There are few cinematic storytellers working today who have mastered the craft the way Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) has. His films are wondrous to behold, full of breathtaking images, rich characterizations, and fascinating storylines. His latest effort, "The Shape of Water," once again displays del Toro's movie-making magic. It's a semi-modern fairy tale set against the backdrop of the Cold War, a real fish-out-of-water romance that stands in stark contrast to the US vs. USSR tensions of the 1960's. But the beauty of del Toro's wondrous creation ultimately sinks to the bottom of the lake, burdened by a one-dimensional villain and predictable storyline.
This gorgeously-realized fairy tale probably reflects the tumultuous social and political climate better than any other film released in 2017. In spite of being set in the 1960's, you'll have no problems at all spotting del Toro's takedown of supporters of the current resident of the White House. The villain of the story, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon – Man of Steel, Revolutionary Road, Nocturnal Animals) makes his offensive presence felt early in the film: a white, heterosexual, Bible-thumping, sexually inappropriate man who despises anything not created in his image. In short, the quintessential voter who helped put a reality TV star in the Oval Office. It's telling that the most unlikeable character in a movie set during the Cold War isn't a Russian spy. But the truth is that every white, heterosexual American, male role in the film is outright evil, weak, or wallpaper. They're paper-thin caricatures who succeed in making us not just dislike them but hate them and root for their comeuppance.
On the other side of the ledger are deep and complex characters: the beautiful, mute Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine, Paddington, Godzilla), her friend and co-worker Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures, The Shack, Insurgent), aging and gay next-door-neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins – Bone Tomahawk, Jack Reacher, The Visitor), Russian scientist and spy Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg – A Serious Man, Boardwalk Empire, Fargo), and the mysteriously sensitive amphibious-man (Doug Jones – Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy, The Midnight Man) who is the most unlikely onscreen Mr. Right you’ll ever meet. Every single one of these actors is richly imagined by the writers and brought to life by beautiful performances from each of the actors. Hawkins, in particular, lights up the screen even as she sleeps through the dreamy opening credits. The performances are enchanting, effortlessly drawing you into the lives of these characters as del Toro weaves this magical, romantic fable.
The story revolves around the capture of a humanoid creature who Strickland and his boss, General Hoyt (Nick Searcy – Moneyball, The Ugly Truth, Runaway Jury), believe holds the key to American supremacy in the space race. Strickland and Hoyt think the creature to be just an animal and want to dissect it to harvest its secrets. Elisa discovers that it is more human than its captors and quickly falls in love with it.
There is so much that del Toro succeeds with here. "The Shape of Water" is a splendid tale, beautiful to behold. But the interspecies romance is the epitome of a love-at-first-sight storyline that isn't all that believable. When you pair that up with a villain, who is more General Zod (in the worst genocidal, alt-right way imaginable) than typical del Toro character and a predictable storyline, "The Shape of Water" ends up being feeling much like a disappointing day at your favorite beach or lake.