****. You are a god.
In The Shape of Water, del Toro has turned out yet another masterpiece of craftsmanship and design. Even when he’s operating at less than his top level, del Toro is a conjurer in the truest sense. He creates entire worlds of atmosphere in his films and his visionary eye is at the top of its game here in the design of the world, the gorgeous visuals and the amazing design of the mysterious creature at the heart of this strange romance. He’s working from a variety of inspirations: paranoid Cold War thrillers, film noir, fairy tales, epic romance, light-hearted musicals. But he’s crafted a movie that only he could have dreamed up and produced on the screen for us to see, an experience of pure magic. He’s aided by an ensemble that is truly firing on all cylinders. Sally Hawkins commands the screen without a word in the kind of nuanced, beatific performance that only she could give; if you’re still not on board with her being an artistic treasure, this movie will get you there. The second tier cast is made up basically entirely of actors that are always worth watching, even when they don’t have material this good: Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Nick Searcy (who had a really wonderful bit part in Three Billboards as well) &, of course, Doug Jones. It seems a little odd to say it, but this special-effects-heavy creature-feature is one of the most meticulously and perfectly acted movies of the year. This is a movie in the grand old style when the images flickered wondrously and we went to the movies less to be entertained and more to be transported. This becomes abundantly clear in a bravura sequence about two-thirds of the way through the movie that reminded me of the observatory sequence in La La Land, but in a good way. It’s the moment when the movie decides to leave nothing for tomorrow and to truly cast caution to the wind in order to make an effort to step the movie up to that next level of sheer beauty and elegance. It failed miserably in La La Land, but it works here like a charm, and I mean that in the most magical use of that word. It’s the moment you can bristle, pull back and go home underwhelmed; or else lift your feet and fly with the movie. Or maybe swim with it. Either way, this movie will take your breath away. 4 stars.
tl;dr – stunning visuals, amazing design, gorgeous performances and a wonderful screenplay all add up to a truly magical, transporting time at the movies; magic like this is why we buy the ticket. 4 stars.