Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Surely the one of the most moving films in recent memory, amazingly emotional moments are captured within a story that at first seems far-fetched, but becomes powerful in its way of describing a strong bond between two souls, no matter their differences. If anything the concept becomes less kooky as it realises the story that emerges from the dramatic shift in the surroundings for a romantic relationship.
The Shape of Water is a varied tale that somehow deftly swings from comedy to aquatic sci-fi to romance to thriller, never losing stride, the inevitable tonal shifts rarely a concern, rarely noticeable. Divided neatly into two halves, in the first we meet the creature of the feature, an incredibly unique creation that just doesn’t look realistic, it looks realistic every time it interacts in any way with any character. And apart from the creature, very little of the film, if any, uses CGI, except perhaps to improve the look of water-filled shots (which aren’t as frequent as you might think).
It is an excellently crafted genre-hopping experience whose second half becomes tense as a very real bond we have witnessed grow becomes jeopardised; a mute cleaner at the facility where the creature is kept form an unspoken bond – the execution here is key as it avoids almost all hints of sentimentality or soap-like moments. The entire film is balanced perfectly in this regard: moving, but far from sappy. Sally Hawkins plays her wordless role to perfection.
The decision to base the film in the early 60’s is an ideal setting, as the Cold War begins to escalate, offering a perfect political backdrop. This detail also increases the intrigue surrounding the romance, making for one of those great fictional stories based in that tense era of history.
And hey, it could have happened. Who’s to say it didn’t? There is a lot we don’t know about this era of history, and this uncertain background helps raise the tension as the stakes increase and rise up the ranks of those who are tasked with maintaining both control of the creature, or the ‘asset’, but also guarding it from possible Soviet interference.
This perfect setting also allows us to indulge in the soundtrack, including a few pre-60s tracks, but the bulk of it is another memorable score by Alexandre Desplat, this time teaming up with The London Symphony Orchestra. It presents a near perfect atmospheric audible backdrop; they have crafted a beautiful soundtrack that importantly is within the period, some of which sounds somehow aquatic.
Despite what it could have been, despite an incredible Michael Shannon looking as menacing as ever, complete with an excellent, cold character and quick, divisive and cutting dialogue, the experience is wrong-footed by one, multi-pronged problem.
The screenplay, while nothing to turns one’s nose at, is let-down by an average script bar a few profound moments. But worse is some moments of a sudden profound loss of logic that cause the progression of some scenes to seem irrational and unbelievable, even within such a fantastical story, as so much effort has been exerted elsewhere to transplant this fantasy tale into a very real part of human history.
While it is obviously a device to set the core of the film, early chain of events that lead to the meeting of cleaner and creature could have been far more believable, and therefore more creative. There are other strange lapses of judgement; most notably a peculiar black and white dream sequence that feels not only jarring but also as if it were forced in as the sequence further depicts the period the movie romanticises throughout; the 30’s through to the 50’s for the most part.
There is also a problem with the comedic aspect very occasionally ruining a dramatic moment, though this is for the most part handled well. There are perhaps too many comic elements that intrude though, occasionally ruining the atmosphere that had been created.
Some aspects of the screenplay may affect the film in ways that are hard to ignore while others were simply underwhelming, but there is no doubt that this is an incredibly unique and powerful romantic story that is beautiful in parts and in the second half goes through quite a roller-coaster. Despite this combination of genres, this is a simple story that is oddly very human and one that is easy to relate to.
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