Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” is part suspenseful romance, part fashion drama, part character study, and wholly unforgettable. It’s not a ghost story, but the movie will haunt you long after the lights come up.
In his second collaboration with Anderson, Daniel Day-Lewis — in what reportedly is his final role before retirement — is meticulous (that’s being nice, he’s a real jerk) 1950s fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock. Luxembourg-born actress Vicky Krieps plays shy, unsophisticated Alma, the latest in a long, long, line of women who serve at the pleasure of the famed and fastidious designer.
Reynolds and Alma meet cute. She’s a waitress in a countryside hotel. He orders a huge breakfast, takes her notepad and challenges her to remember it. She does and then accepts his dinner invitation. Later that night, he wipes off her lipstick, because he likes “to see who I’m talking to.” I don’t know about you, but that’s a relationship red flag. Control much, Reynolds?
Yeah, he’s a real piece of work, bellowing at the film’s start to his current squeeze about how he simply cannot begin his days with confrontation. Once the script inserts Alma into Reynold’s life and deposits her into his London mansion, he scolds her for buttering her toast too loudly and accuses her of having no taste. When she tries to surprise him with a homemade meal, he delivers a dart: “What happened to make you behave like this?” As loathsome as Reynolds can be, Day-Lewis plays him with such mad charm that you can’t hate him. In fact, some of his remarks are so matter-of-fact cutting that you’ll laugh-out-loud. Day-Lewis goes out on a high, delivering another indelible and Oscar-worthy performance, if this is indeed his final bow. One hopes not.
A terrific Lesley Manville (“Another Year,” “Mr. Turner”) is Reynolds’ watchful sister, Cyril Woodcock, who functions as his shrink, secretary and caretaker. She more or less runs his life and the House of Woodcock, which counts queens and countesses as clients. Cyril is as icy as Reynolds is insolent. It’s a perfect pairing until Alma’s arrival upends that dynamic. Manville is spot-on in her presentation of Cyril as a strong, business-minded woman instead of spinster sister. She’s the film’s MVP and can put anyone in their place with a delicate one liner (“He likes a little belly”) or death stare. Some of the movie’s best scenes are the exchanges between Cyril and Alma.
Reynolds sews messages and mementos into the seams of his couture creations, the name “Alma” or a lock of his mother’s hair, for example. Is there any coincidence that Anderson is doing the same with the title of his film? Could “Phantom Thread” be a nod to the filmmaker’s initials P.T.? If so, then that’s the kind of slyness Anderson and his exquisite cast and crew put forth. The wardrobe from Oscar-winning costume designer Mark Bridges (“The Artist”) is sublime, capturing in fabric the flavors of 1950s London. Composer Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) supplies a stunning and evocative score that should earn him his first Oscar.
Anderson (“There Will Be Blood,” “Magnolia,” “Boogie Nights”) pulls double duty as director and writer. His tender and tempestuous story deals with the mysterious ties that bind lovers, artist and muse, sister and brother, and the sacrifices people make to enable the creative process. But it’s not until late in the film when the relationship dynamics shift and the movie reveals its hand, resonating in the powerfully subtle performance from Krieps. At first, I wrote her off, telling a friend she and Day-Lewis shared no chemistry. Then as the weeks passed and the movie simmered in my brain, I had one of those “aha” moments. Krieps is simply splendid. It’s hard to be in a relationship with a compulsive type and even more difficult not be swallowed whole by a co-star as esteemed and method intense as Day-Lewis. Krieps succeeds on all levels. In fact, the movie is more her’s than his, especially in the end when she ... well, I don’t want to be a spoiler.
— Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
(R for language).