The Shape of Water is a fantasy film with toned-down unreal images so we do not see swarms of CGI things crashing and smashing each other for two hours.
The unreal character here is an amphibian creature that has been found and captured in the Amazon jungle in the 1960s.
The ‘asset,’ as he is called by the military captors, is about 6-1/2 feet tall and covered with fishlike scales.
His head and face are a match for his body. He is being held in chains in a Baltimore laboratory building in a suitable sized aquarium.
It is the time when the Cold War was at its peak and the Russian scientists are trying to get possession of the asset.
The Americans are not concerned with the well-being of the creature and treat him cruelly.
The intelligence officer assigned to head the research is Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon).
He is especially unfeeling about the creature’s well-being and views it as a wild animal.
He feels the same about all the workers under his command.
He carries a cattle prod and uses it on the asset freely and often.
Two women on the janitorial staff are awestruck by the creature. Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and Elisa (Sally Hawkins) are friends.
Elisa is mute from a childhood injury to her vocal chords.
Zelda understands Elisa’s sign language and Elisa depends on her to communicate with others in the lab.
Elisa lives alone in an apartment, next to an older man, Giles (Richard Jenkins). Giles is an artist, way past his creative prime.
He is a good friend to Elisa and can read her sign language also. Elisa looks to Giles as a father figure.
Elisa becomes intrigued with the amphibian creature and begins to approach him.
She brings him things to eat which he soon accepts thankfully. The two pariahs — the mute girl and the unhuman man — become close friends and learn to understand basic communications with each other.
When Elisa learns that there is a plan to study the alien in a way that will destroy him, she enlists the help of Giles, Zelda and eventually the scientist on the project.
That scientist is an undercover Russian agent who has more sympathy for the asset than for the Russians’ plans.
They devise a plot to release the asset and bring him to Elisa’s apartment. Their success causes great distress to Strickland.
He is blamed for the security failure. Shannon’s performance as Strickland is powerful in its convincing display of cruelty and violence.
Spencer and Jenkins as Elisa’s support team are also convincing the other way. They are caring, kindly and helpful to Elisa, all the way.
This is Sally Hawkins’s film. She is wonderful as the mute girl who finds a soul mate in a hostile society. (Remember the 1984 film Starman.)
The sum of all this is a very satisfying drama that has us rooting for the ‘misfits’ because they do ‘fit’ better than some of the other characters, and we care a lot about them.
The Shape of Water is playing at Harkins Sedona 6 Theater.