First Hit: Beautifully crafted and acted, and I didn’t find it all that interesting.
Although most of the scenes are dark and have a green color tint, they are beautifully crafted. The greenish tint is in the walls of the lab, the color of the hallways in the facility, the color of the water in which the beast lives and the van that was used to transport the beast. To break up this hue, color, like the deep dark red velvet seats in the movie theater, would be used to signify boldness.
The movie theater plays a role in the film because it is the home of Giles (Richard Jenkins) and the amazing star of the film Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins). They live upstairs in small apartments.
Sally is a mute and works at a laboratory as a janitor. Her workmate, friend and protector is Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer). One day, when they are cleaning a secret room of the lab Sally is startled by the beast (Amphibian Man / Doug Jones) when she places her hand on a chamber he's being contained in. The amphibian has been captured and is being studied by Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) who is also happens to be a Russian spy.
The US government is trying to keep the amphibian secret and has hired Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) to keep tabs on the creature. Strickland is cruel and thinks himself superior to everyone, especially Zelda and Elisa. He shows his cruelty by carrying around a cattle prod which he uses to control the amphibian.
Eliza’s days are monotonous and the same. After sleeping; she gets up goes into the bathroom, masturbates in her tub, makes a sandwich for herself to take to work and one for her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), goes to work, cleans the lab and bathrooms, returns home and spends time with Giles in his apartment where they watch dancing films on television.
Loved the scenes when Giles and Eliza do dance routines while sitting on the couch. Sweet and touching and added a heartfelt feeling to the characters.
Dancing is nice aspect of this film and it brings a lightness to this, otherwise, heavy film. The dance routines were directly from some of the films of the 1940s and 50s.
The obvious set-up is that Eliza feels a deep connection with the amphibian partially because they both don’t speak. However, they find a way of communicating with each other. She falls in love with him and is stressed because of the cruelty Strickland imposes on the amphibian. The question becomes, will she fight for the amphibian?
One of the failings of this film were the scars on Eliza’s neck. This detail was too obvious and allowed me to see the end before it came.
This film is a love story and in many ways, it really works well. I’m not sure of the necessity of having Hoffstetler be a Russian spy and I’m not sure why the pie store owner needed to be a racist. I just didn’t think it enhanced the story.
Hawkins was perfect for this role. Her clarity of purpose, her portrayal of being mute and desire to be seen as a person, was divine. The development of her finding the strength to act on her love was compelling. One of the best performances of the year. Just as Hawkins was purposeful in her role, Shannon was equally intense as the man who wanted to control the amphibian. His driven personality to succeed at his job, his way, was perfectly played. Jenkins was great as the scared and scarred neighbor that had been let go from his job as product illustrator. Stuhlbarg was fantastic as the Russian agent who wanted science and this discovery to prevail over the wants of the Russian Government. Spencer was great as Eliza’s friend and protector. I sensed that writer and director Guillermo del Toro wanted this film to be both an interesting and emotional journey, but I found it lacking in interesting department, except when I was thinking about how the scenes were shot and the detail of the well-crafted pictures, like the cracked tile in Eliza’s bathroom. However, the direction by him of this cadre of actors was exquisite and keep me engaged.
Overall: Although exquisitely beautiful in its crafting, it did not leave a lasting impression of greatness.