Hardly a popcorn movie, ‘Phantom Thread’ rewards the patient viewer with a slow, haunting burn that serves as a beautiful send-off for Daniel Day-Lewis.Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the film, a period drama set in 1950’s England, follows the twisted love affair between Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis), a renowned dressmaker at the center of British fashion, and his muse and lover, Alma (Vicky Krieps), a strong-willed waitress who disrupts both his regimented lifestyle and his revolving door of female companionship.
But Alma, perhaps drawn to his genius or standing—certainly not his irritable personality—demands to be a partner in his life rather than a piece of furniture. She devises a method altogether devious, amusing, and kinky to make Woodcock submit. Newcomer Krieps, a Luxembourgish actress, shifts from vaguely sad, to modelesque, to indomitable with but a tilt of the head. She has a promising career before her.
Woodcock’s sister and business partner, Cyril (Lesley Manville), her presence cold and lingering, rounds out this dysfunctional triad. Cyril is her brother’s keeper; she enables his fastidious lifestyle, the unchanging environment where his work thrives. Manville can convey volumes in her repertoire of icy glares, which easily serve as some of the most entertaining moments of the film.
Brilliant in his apparently final role, Day-Lewis is magnetic as the self-important, theatrical, and eccentric-to-say-the-least Reynolds Woodcock, a name that he reportedly came up with himself. Sometimes charming, sometimes vexing, Woodcock draws in Alma, and us with her, only to fuel his craft, which he thinks the finest in the world.
‘Phantom Thread,’ however, relies on more than the strength of its characters and actors. Indeed the whole film, like one of Woodcock’s dresses, is sewn together with meticulous detail. Though Day-Lewis is the lead, costume designer Mark Bridges, who has worked with Anderson on a number of films, is the true star of the movie. His work brought to life a world most people couldn’t even imagine. Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood, another Anderson collaborator, deserves an Oscar nod for that jazz-inspired string score that is lush and sweeping and quite simply beautiful.
If the film has a negative, it’s that the sort of “twist” at the end, as well as other snippets of the film, verges on melodrama, though this won’t deter fans of Anderson’s work. And there’s the slow, slow, slow pace as well. Though tightly modulated and sprinkled with bouts of excitement, ‘Phantom Thread’ feels longer than its approximately two-hour runtime.
But the slow pacing is a consequence of the character-driven story, and the dynamic between Anderson’s characters—their obsessive and controlling nature—could sustain an even longer, slower film. ‘Phantom Thread’ is wonderful.
Photo courtesy of IMDB
‘Phantom Thread’ hits theaters Christmas Day