There will be spoilers!
I know my opinion is controversial, but please hear me out. It’s not a bad movie, but “The Shape of Water” does not deserve its Best Picture Oscar. Let me explain.
I confess that my exposure to Guillermo Del Toro’s work has been limited. The only two movies of his I’ve ever seen all the way through are “Mama” and “Megamind.”
Nonetheless, these movies and his extensive filmography tell me that Del Toro specializes in fantastic, dramatic story lines with memorable characters. They usually involve a character or a series of characters dealing with otherworldly circumstances.
“The Shape of Water” is no exception. I enjoyed the film. It was extremely well-made and well-directed. Three of those Oscars were deserved. The music was enchanting, the sets were beautiful, and the directing was close to perfect. This film would not have been half as good without any of this.
The acting was great, too, most notably from Sally Hawkins who plays the main mute character, Elisa Esposito. Even as a mute, she is still completely compelling. Elisa is compassionate towards her friends and courageous enough to do whatever she can to help them. She also has such a love of life in spite of her social standing as a janitor at a time when the disabled faced much more discrimination than they do now in the States. Her relationship with her friends and, particularly, with the river monster always feels completely believable. The monster, played by Doug Jones, is similarly believable as a humanoid creature learning how to relate to other humans. They play off each other well as two characters who can’t speak and their romance is sweeter for it.
Unfortunately, even with all these elements, this film still felt phoned in to me, and that comes down to the story’s conflict, mostly with the main villain and opposition. Colonel Strickland, the man in charge of the military’s project to study the amphibious man, is about as flat a villain as you can get. He quotes the Bible, he’s racist, and he’s willing to do anything unethical to support America and stop the commies while flirting with Elisa and trying to cheat on his wife behind her back for no reason. The Colonel is clearly supposed to be a product of his time and is acted well, but there’s almost no motivation or nuance behind any of his actions. He is just evil and straight-up boring as a result. It feels like he’s only there to give a face to everything liberals hate about America.
Having to see him in this movie and deal with the Cold War subplot made me realize how heavy-handed this film’s message is. The film is about tolerance and love, but the message was handled with about as much subtlety as early ‘90’s environmental films. It feels like almost every five minutes you are pulled out of the movie’s atmosphere to experience another message about how bad racism is, why love is love, or why intolerance is evil instead of being challenged or being allowed to enjoy the film distraction-free. It should have been cut. It took time away from the main romance.
I realize that this is a movie set during the Cold War and all those things were bigger issues back then and still are now, but these lessons could have been shown better or not included at all. They detract from the film as a whole and make the movie feel more like something made to appeal to a certain demographic instead of art for the sake of art.
The film is great. It is worthy of the nomination, but a film is only as strong as the sum of its whole parts. If any parts are weak, they detract from the whole. There were films that were nominated that were wholly stronger. I still recommend seeing it, but it was not worthy of the Best Picture Oscar.