Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, said to be master thespian Daniel Day-Lewis’ last movie, is a supremely elegant, strange, claustrophobic, bleakly funny fever-dream masterpiece.
Set in 1950s London, the film casts Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock, a sought-after couturier. He’s emotionally remote, dogmatic, persnickety, immaculately dressed—a self-absorbed, self-appointed genius who adores rich women yet is utterly dismissive when they displease him in even the smallest of ways.
Woodcock has a much-loved dead mother (wouldn’t he just?) and a sister and business cohort, Cyril (brilliantly played by Lesley Manville), starchy, chic, ferociously protective, and who plays on all of his weaknesses and strengths. She even gives his ex-amours the brush-off in brusque but somehow humane ways.
Then, into Woodcock’s impeccably ordered, hermetically sealed, super-stylish existence, comes Alma (Vicky Krieps), a lovely, frank immigrant waitress for whom Woodcock falls while on a seaside retreat. He brings her to his multi-floored home, crowns her as his muse and partner, and makes her one of his models.
It’s a Paul Thomas Anderson movie—a gorgeous, gothic, edgy one at that—so we know that something odd, perhaps cataclysmic, is going to happen between them. It does, and it turns on an action as simple as the eating of an omelet, which makes the movie feel, at least on the surface, a world apart from There Will Be Blood and The Master.
Day-Lewis is everything as Woodcock–crazily magnetic, imperious, difficult and even vulnerable.
The outcome is gorgeous, wickedly funny and weirdly romantic. With Anderson’s woozily beautiful cinematography and melancholy, chilly, swoony Bernard Herrmann-esque strings courtesy of a fabulous score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread resonates with images, moods, textures and themes that evoke the darkest romances of Alfred Hitchcock–Suspicion, Vertigo and Marnie spring to mind.
In fact, Anderson himself has compared his film to a predecessor of those aforementioned movies, Hitchcock’s version of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and it’s easy to see Woodcock’s similarities to the dashing, tormented widower Max de Winter; Krieps steps into the slightly awkward Joan Fontaine poor-girl role, with Manville representing a blend of the formidable, creepy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers crossed with Rebecca herself. The nature of the relationship between Woodcock (sounds a bit like Hitchcock, no?) and Alma (the name of Alfred Hitchcock’s wife, incidentally)–and we wouldn’t spoil it for the world–is one for the ages.
The performances are astonishing. Day-Lewis (who collaborated on the screenplay) is everything as Woodcock–crazily magnetic, imperious, difficult and even vulnerable. Newcomer Krieps is fascinating and chameleon-like, and it’s hard to take one’s eyes off the quietly scene-grabbing Manville.
Time will tell, of course, but right now, Phantom Thread feels like a masterwork. Imagine Anderson crossed with du Maurier crossed with Hitchcock crossed with Ibsen and Strindberg. It’s that rich and strange.
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