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Downsizing

The Shape Of Water

December 28, 2017

Downsizing (** ½) R     

Even the best of directors have a film or two on their resume that misses the mark. And so it is with Downsizing, the latest project from the usually dependable filmmaker Alexander Payne. Payne, whose previous works include such superb examples of the craft of filmmaking as Election, About Schmidt and Sideways, can’t be faulted for not attempting something of substance here. There seems to be a valuable message trying to be conveyed and for that credit must be wholly given. Unfortunately, Downsizing is a film that never quite comes together as a cohesive whole, with the first and second halves of the film almost at odds with each other, in spite of some very emotionally satisfying moments lodged within the film. It’s best labeled as a misfire but an inspired one, nonetheless.  

The first half of Downsizing sets up the film’s premise in an effective manner. A technology has been invented wherein the human species can be reduced in size in an effort to solve the earth’s overpopulation problem. Small-scale communities have been created where the newly shrunken can live and thrive on half of the amount of money it takes to live in the current world situation. Enter Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) who, along with his wife (Kristen Wiig), decides to take the plunge and become a part of this new concept. Through a plot twist that I won’t reveal here­—although this development has been spoiled by the film’s trailers—things don’t turn out exactly as Paul had envisioned. The second half of the film is where the emotional resonance transpires as the film shifts from a satirical feel to wistful and almost melancholic. Paul chances to meet a physically challenged Vietnamese dissident (Hong Chau) who gives his life a sense of purpose, urging him to reach to a higher calling. Unfortunately, the film’s earlier, interesting examination of Paul’s mid life crisis that lead him to the decision to begin this new life is pretty much forgotten about in favor of his race to save the world. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but it never feels like it’s in synch with what came before.  

Kristen Wiig & Matt Damon in Downsizing  

The film is well cast and, in addition to those mentioned earlier, Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz shows up in an interesting supporting turn as a fellow shrinkee that Paul befriends along with Jason Sudeikis, Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern. Still, it’s newcomer Hong Chau’s performance as the woman who points Paul in the right direction that proves to be revelatory. She’s simply amazing and one of the best reasons to see this so-so effort from a usually reliable director.

Downsizing opens Friday, December 22, in Hickory and around the area.

The Shape of Water (*** 1/2) R

For an approximate run of roughly ten years, spanning from 1986-1996, director Oliver Stone churned out a slew of films that included the likes of the critically lauded JFK, Platoon and Wall Street. From each of those films oozed a sense of passion that sprang directly from the heart and mind of their creator. There was a sense of urgency palpable in nearly every frame and a feeling that Stone had to tell these stories; to put them out there and get them out of his system. Cinematic passion projects are hardly anything new but those films from decades gone by were of that rare breed, made as much for the sake of art as they were for the sake of commerce. 

I mention this because that same sense of passion, which, incidentally, is becoming the rarest of breeds these days, is very evident in director Guillermo Del Toro’s sci-fi fantasy/romance, The Shape of Water. You can feel his desire to tell this story in every scene and, as such, it’s a loving reminder of what great directors can do when they have a story inside that simply refuses to go away until it sees the light of day. This is that kind of film.


Sally Hawkins & her creature in The Shape of Water

The setting is 1962. Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins, perfectly cast and turning in a revelatory performance) is a mute who lives in her own little world and with the exception of her best friend at work, Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and her neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), has very little connection with others.  Elisa has not spoken since she was a child. This changes when Elisa chances to meet a sea creature of sorts that’s being housed at the research facility where she serves in a janitorial capacity.

At first Elisa is taken aback by the creature and isn’t sure what to make of it. Eventually she earns its trust by feeding it daily and teaching it to communicate. It’s then that an ever-deepening bond develops between the two that leads to unexpected turns for all involved and also puts her at odds with the government official (Michael Shannon) who is eager to kill it and conduct experiments on it.

The weakest link in the film is a subplot involving the cold war but it’s not enough to detract from the overall wonders contained in the film. The Shape of Water is science fiction fantasy at its best and will reward handsomely those who embark on its journey. I highly recommend it.

The Shape of Water is playing now at theaters in Charlotte, and opens Friday in Winston-Salem.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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