Love is an intoxicating drug. But in Phantom Thread, a wondrous and twisted exploration of the heart by acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, love is also a blunt-force weapon, a bright star by which to navigate, a poison, and a cure-all medicine.
For renown 1950s London dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), love begins with a sweet but clumsy waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps).
Woodcock meets Alma at a quaint cafe in the small village where he grew up. The pair are strikingly opposite. He is a towering presence, immaculately and fashionably dressed, who is graceful, fastidious, supremely confident, and demanding of the same. She is a shrinking violet, kindly, gentle, and innocent, whose beauty is tucked away so that no one, including her, can see it.
But Woodcock does see it the moment Alma stumbles into his gaze. He playfully flirts with her during his meal, and later, in the sewing room of his boyhood home, seduces her while fitting her for one of his dresses. Alma is his. But what he doesn’t realize is that he is hers as well.
TRAILER: Phantom Thread
Anderson’s wry script seduces us with such playful and joyous moments between the pair that this is a love story for the ages. Woodcock, who has a history of falling out of love as quickly as he fell into it, truly seems smitten. He insists to his watchdog sister Cyril (an Oscar-nominated Lesley Manville who steals moments with her chilly performance) that this time it's different. But she knows him better than he knows himself, and so she refuses to warm up to Alma, let alone accept her presence in their home.
Directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson. A Focus Features release playing at Levis Commons. Rated R for language. Running time: 130 minutes.
Critic’s rating: ★★★★½
Cast: Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Lesley Manville.
The brother and sister have built up a successful fashion business and partnership that thrives on order and precision. Woodcock, a favorite fashionista of Britain’s wealthy and elite women, needs calm and quiet to create; Cyril’s job is to make that happen. She considers Alma to be a threat to all of that. And as Woodcock and Alma’s relationship changes and then falters, his work suffers accordingly. And that's only the beginning of his troubles, as Phantom Thread lays in wait for us with menacing truths and wicked twists about what the heart wants and is willing to do to get it.
Phantom Thread's crisp and precise cinematography by an uncredited Anderson is thoughtfully framed with revelations and observations, and its Oscar-nominated score by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood is delicate, beautiful, and chilling.
A new film written and directed by Anderson, consistently one of the best and most challenging directors among Hollywood’s now graying new guard of filmmakers, is always welcome, though not always wholly successful. After pushing boundaries with 2014’s messy, manic, and often indecipherable dark comedy-drama Inherent Vice, Anderson gets subtle with Phantom Thread, which was nominated for six Oscars in total, including best picture and best director. At slightly more than two hours long, his film is steady but never slow, as tensions between the trio of characters wax and wane but never disappear.
Anderson teaming up again with Day-Lewis, who won a best actor Oscar a decade ago as a menacing father in the filmmaker's There Will Be Blood, was already huge news. Then Day-Lewis said Phantom Thread could be his last film. If it is, the three-time Oscar winner is bowing out in a remarkable way with a commanding performance that occasionally rises to a temperamental shout but more often relies on physicality; Woodcock’s gait, icy glares, and palpable indifference if not loathing of almost everyone and everything he comes in contact with. Day-Lewis is a quiet force of nature. Equally impressive is Krieps’ ability to match him.
The Luxembourger actress has the presence and range to sink under her Svengali’s steely gaze, and later rise to challenge it as an equal and more.
Anderson’s screenplay imagines their relationship as a lavish courting ritual with rules and etiquette that Woodcock and Alma will bend and break to suit their own purpose.
But as, Phantom Thread reminds us again and again, they are in love. And as peculiar, twisted, and horrifying as their love may be, Anderson knows as do we, there’s something familiar to it.
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