Phantom Thread


* * * 1/2

Paul Thomas Anderson’s ravishing Phantom Thread, featuring Daniel Day Lewis as a celebrated 1950s London fashion designer whose world is turned upside down upon the arrival of a new muse, is an exceedingly well-made excursion into the mind of an obsessive undone by, perhaps, an even bigger obsession.

In a performance of unexpected naturalism, Day-Lewis is Reynolds Woodock, haute couture designer to debutantes, dignitaries and international socialites, himself elevated to such status, a veritable celebrity harangued by admirers. His business, the House of Woodcock, operates from a lavish, multistoried abode he shares with sister Cyril (Lesley Manville, stunning), his icily domineering business manager.

While 1955 postwar London wasn’t yet swinging, proudly confirmed bachelor and society man Woodcock is opposed to marriage, indulging instead in a long line of muses, of whom he quickly tires. An egomaniacal narcissist, he’s possessed by the female form and one of those classic, closed-off workaholics who lives for his craft, a master artiste driven by his longtime neuroses, and absolutely no one will intercede.

Woodcock’s regimen is tested after a fluke meeting in a country restaurant with Alma (Vicky Krieps), a shy, pretty waitress who immediately takes note of Reynolds’ specificity in his breakfast order. He’s a man who knows what he wants, and one that she wants, and after bonding over dinner, Woodcock drives her back to his studio for an impromptu fitting—and of course, she has the perfect measurements.

But this is less Pygmalion and more Vertigo, with a dash of Rebecca for good measure. Why does Woodcock want Alma? Is it romantic? Sexual? Professional? There are also issues of Woodcock’s unresolved feelings about his mother, and revelations of past details about the origins of his work.

While his business flounders, so does his health, and once Alma beings to play nursemaid the picture reveals its true intentions, becoming a sort of relationship roundelay informed by sexual tension and power struggles, an engrossing depiction of shifting control between partners.

Phantom Thread is exacting, chilly and immaculate, much like its lead character, and ultimately presents a metaphor for a relationship equalizer so outrageous its as hard to swallow as it is perfect.

Day-Lewis’ depiction of a master controller brought low by love—or perhaps the need to recreate a certain unresolved past relationship—is, as always, richly etched. But it’s Luxembourg actress Krieps (Hanna), whose Alma we feel initially might be subjugated and swallowed up, who truly surprises, giving us a portrait of a “stand by your man” woman who dismantles a very difficult man and makes him into something quite unexpected.

Director Anderson, arguably one of the few singular, auteur voices in American film today, has mounted a glamorous, stylish movie with high-style art direction and cinematography—every frame exudes class and sophistication—and the score, but Jonny Greenwood, is lusciously grand.


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