Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Guillermo del Toro's THE SHAPE OF WATER proves his richest, most successful film to date

Taking you places that movies seldom manage while creating a tightly-focused universe of dark enchantment based clearly on the kind of world in which we're forever stuck, Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (shown below) has, with THE SHAPE OF WATER, graced us with his (so far) masterpiece.

Ever more so than Pan's Labyrynth, which demanded at least some knowledge of Spain's history and the Spanish Civil War to bring its several strands together, del Toro's newest work asks that you remember or maybe just have a nodding acquaintance with The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Even if you don't recall that "landmark" monster movie, you still should not have any real trouble understanding the theme, plot and raison d'être of this exceptional love story/fantasy that is filled to its brim with "outsiders" of every sort.

In the film's most striking and yet most subtle note, even the movie's premiere villain -- played to the hilt by Michael Shannon (above), the only actor we have today who could easily replace the late, great Boris Karloff -- is himself one of these outsiders, incapable of experiencing or feeling emotions like love and caring, yet unable to even understand what this lack means to his own place in the world. (The other outsiders here all very well know their lack and their place.)

Señor del Toro addresses the place and plight of our GLBT community, our people of color and our handicapped simply and gracefully via his movie's main characters. The gracious and comforting Octavia Spencer (above) plays one of the two janitorial staff with whom we bond at the government-sponsored "research" facility to which our creature, found in the Amazon, has been brought for "study."

The other worker is played by our main character, Elisa, a young woman who has had her vocal chords cut as a child and is now mute, played by the great Sally Hawkins (above). As with Rachel Brosnahan in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I can't think of another actress who could bring all that Ms Hawkins does to this role: an inner beauty that simply glows, steely strength when required, and an openness that captivates and charms.

Another wonderful actor who possesses extraordinary subtlety and empathy, Richard Jenkins (above), plays Elisa's friend and neighbor, Giles, a gay illustrator/artist in a time in America -- the 1960s -- when the closet was still the best option. These three unite to save our creature, who is in peril of its life, and the movie's wonderful message of tolerance and love for and by not just humans but any living species is brought home as seamlessly, beautifully and cinematically as just about any in movie history.

In addition to Shannon's villainous character, we meet another scientist, played by ubiquitous and always wonderful Michael Stuhlbarg (above and also currently to be seen in Call Me By Your Name and The Post). TrustMovies would say the the film's ace-in-the-hole, performance- and character-wise would be the depiction of its creature, brought to life by actor Doug Jones (below, and oft-used by del Toro) and his incredible make-up or maybe CGI-effects, This is indeed a stunning achievement, but then all the characters and characterizations here are so good that literally no one stands out above any other.

While the plot of The Shape of Water is pretty simple -- rather typical, really -- the film is brought to fierce and gorgeous life by del Toro's wondrous imagination.

That imagination has been hugely abetted by that fine cinematographer Dan Laustsen (Crimson Peak, Brotherhood of the Wolf, and the gorgeous and engrossing Danish TV series 1864), production designer (Paul D. Austerberry), art director (Nigel Churcher) and set decorators Jeffrey A. Melvin and Shane Vieau, all of whom, save Vieau, have worked with del Toro previously.

There are only around a half dozen locations used repeatedly in the film, but all of these -- from Elisa and Giles' facing apartments (hers is shown above) to the science laboratory (two photos up) to the giant old-fashioned movie theater (below) located just below the apartments -- are brought to such amazing, beautiful, darkly noir-ish life that they will probably remain in your mind and imagination for good.

In all, The Shape of Water comes together to form something we almost never see: a kind of mainstream blockbuster, a moving work of art, and a film that manages to show us just about everything that a single motion picture can achieve.

From Fox Searchlight and running 123 minutes, the film is playing all over the country at this point. Click here to find the theater(s) nearest you.

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