Set in 1950s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.
Paul Thomas Anderson, by now, is a cabinet of curiosities as a filmmaker. While certainly a prolific auteur in the rites of Robert Altman and his ensemble pieces, he can, chameleon-like, transform into a hypnotic and singular voice in character studies and plot-driven attempts. In his latest, Phantom Thread, he channels the likes of some of Hitchcock’s best: not the hysterics and violence of Psycho, or the looming peril of The Birds, or even the voyeuristic paranoia of Vertigo. The melodrama and building gloom of Rebecca and other slow-burning masterpieces haunt the frames of Anderson’s new film, and it is enlightening to behold, all 130 minutes.The simplicity of the film is deceiving. Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), one of London’s most sought-out dressmakers, meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), and seduction goes both ways. While he can’t seem to live without her in his meticulous and most particular ways, she also carries the weight of knowing that her being carries Reynolds’ success along. Thus begins a cycle of parlor games between the two, where trust is cold war of tete-a-tete and, simply, getting to know and believe what the other person is truly about. Deep down, the film is a chess match of sexual politics, which questions and makes one think of the exact underlying meaning of marriage. Slyly, Anderson makes the case that it is both a discomforting prospect yet somehow worthwhile, all in ways you have to see to believe. Day-Lewis, in his supposed and sorrowful final screen performance, is nothing short of perfect as a man who has spent his life in the finest garments, only to find them gradually unraveling. Likewise, newcomer Krieps has, arguably, the more tricky task of matching and exceeding the great thespian that is Day-Lewis, and watching her character of Alma blossom is nothing short of astounding. I would be remiss not to mention the craft of the film, particularly in the integral costume design, the exacting and detailed eye of the photography (by Anderson’s own hand, mind you), and Jonny Greenwood’s mesmerizing score. They go beyond being “well done”; they make the movie breathe. Due to some coarse language and hints at violent acts, the film is not Dove-Approved but undoubtedly is a fascinating study for those willing to dive into some of these more profound questions. Hypnotic, just as Anderson is, Phantom Thread casts a spell, one that is at once prickly and strangely affirming.