“He’s a wild creature. We can’t ask him to be anything else.” Giles, The Shape of Water (2017)
I’m just going to say this now, Michael Shannon is an incredible actor and the fact that he didn’t even get a nomination for an Academy Award for his role in this film is shameful. That man can turn really mediocre films like Nocturnal Animals (2016) into solid gold. Well, actually that’s not true for Nocturnal Animals. Anyways, he’s an extremely hidden talent and one of the many amazing components of Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water.
I’ve got a love hate relationship with Del Toro’s work. After recently watching Pacific Rim (2013) I thought all he could really do is create cheesy sci-fi movies. Anyways, my personal opinion aside, Del Toro had a lot riding on this viewing. It’s not as if it’s going to impact him personally though, whether or not I liked this movie is completely redundant to everyone including him and you, the reader. For the record though, The Shape of Water is an incredible movie. Possibly one of the best films of 2017, with a definite place in a top ten ranking.
Still, I always had a hunch that The Shape of Water would be an incredible movie. That does explain why I walked twenty minutes to the fucking shop to buy the DVD on the day of its release. Ten quid this film cost me, and with no source of income this was a fucking investment rather than a purchase. I’d have to skip meals to buy this shit, but in the long run it was definitely worth it.
Sally Hawkins is quickly becoming one of my favourite actors. Her work in Happy Go Lucky (2008) is some of the most incredible work I’ve seen from a film. It’s such a shame that she didn’t win the Oscar for Best Actress though, it’s a truly deserving performance and a tough one to get right. I honestly didn’t realise she’d be spending a majority of the film playing a mute character that communicates through sign language. That’s not exactly a hindrance on her performance, as actions speak a thousand words. Her character arc shows this extremely well. Hawkins’ character develops so naturally and wonderfully over the course of the film and its through showing the audience, rather than telling them.
One of the most incredible parts of any film is the soundtrack. With The Shape of Water, the soundtrack is absolutely one of the best parts of the film. It’s so unique and wonderfully applied to the film. You can work wonders with the right sound, and it’s no surprise that Del Toro puts his music to good use here. There were a few moments where the soundtrack alone stood out as completely perfect. The opening tap dancing scene for instance, which puzzled me at first, has resonated well with me over this past month and a half. Yes, it has been that long since I made these notes, I’m incredibly lazy considering I’m in a competitive field.
As expected, Del Toro’s overall direction and cinematography is superb. He has a certain grandeur about him in all of his films that make him truly unique. His ability to craft these entire worlds with such ease is what makes him one of the few genuine visionaries working in Hollywood today. With regard to his world building and eye for detail, he surpasses the likes of Scorsese and Tarantino. Whereas their focus is solely on the camera angle matching the shot, Del Toro is further into auteur than either of the aforementioned directors. A good shot doesn’t just rely on the camera, but the music and performances of the cast too.
The cast are a perfect packet of unique and varied characters. Hawkins provides an incredibly strong role, as does the always perfect Michael Shannon. Richard Jenkins received an Oscar nomination for his work as Giles in one of the strangest and most unique performances I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Jenkins brings a very unique layer to the film and his supporting role suits Hawkins’ character nicely. Giles as a character is excellent, with some frequent illusions throughout to a more distraught life than first expected. It’s a shame we never get to see that, however it’s understandable given that he is after all only a supporting character.
What I do love about this film though is that it perfectly captures a 1960s style zeitgeist. One that contributes to the plot however at the same time doesn’t detract in a distracting style. We see glimmers of the 1960s, homages to old television and the expected lifestyle at the time. Shannon’s character is a great example of this, and without going into too much detail reflects a stereotypical suburban lifestyle with a darker undertone to him.
Like most aspects of any movie, the dialogue is what keeps it ahead of everything else similar to it. To be fair, The Shape of Water is a truly unique experience, I’d struggle to say that there is any other film like it. Finding Nemo (2003) has too much water and Jaws (1975) has too many sharks. All joking aside, Del Toro’s ability to craft such a unique film is what makes it so interesting. The intricate detail weaved into the narrative and dialogue is a prime reason for this uniqueness. He’s managed to balance serious drama with an excellent level of humour and lightheartedness. That’s an incredibly difficult balance to find, one that often breaks a half decent movie.
Unlike Pacific Rim, Del Toro’s The Shape of Water is enjoyable. It’s possibly one of the best movies out there if you’re into naked fish people. If not, then you’re like me and probably watched because of all the Oscar buzz and Michael Shannon. That man is a gift from whatever God may exist. It’s such a uniquely odd film, and Del Toro’s direction brings that weird feeling to an ultimate climax. He provides such an enjoyable energy, along with emotion to a film that could’ve flopped with anyone else at the helm.
Me and a friend of mine once referred to this as “the fish fucking movie” as a joke. It was before either of us had seen the film. We didn’t realise our mockup title would be taken so seriously, yet here we are. Del Toro has made a film where Sally Hawkins has implied sex with a seven foot fish and he won an Oscar for it. It’s political correctness gone normal.