Daniel Day-Lewis is being a bit enigmatic when he says Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread shall be his exit from acting, especially as he mysteriously seems to be blaming the apparently disturbing experience of making the film as Exhibit A for his thespian finale. If that is the case, then at least we will always have the odd but mesmerizing delights of the 1950s-set homage to fashion, in particular designers who treat their creations as the second coming — or at least the one Day-Lewis plays.
As fashion maven Reynolds Woodcock (how’s that for a name?), he plays a man who is all in to his profession and really a Class A asshole in terms of his singleminded immersion into all of it. He’s a weird, mysterious guy as we have no idea what brought him to this way of life, but it is clear the only person who really can tell is his equally obsessive sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), the woman who knows him better than he knows himself and seems bent on keeping out the riff raff as she controls all aspects of his life and business. Into this dynamic enters Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress he spots who seems to be his new muse as he invites her, or seduces her, into the lair as Henry Higgins might have summoned Eliza.
She represents a new challenge, perhaps for his art. Or is she something else altogether? But it turns out that she isn’t at all what he might have expected, or for that matter what Anderson initially wants us to think she is. As their relationship deepens, so does her own methods of madness in this intriguing world to which she finds herself subjected. But this is no Pygmalion-like exercise, and Cyril knows it better than anybody — particularly her brother who might have met his match in the control department. Let the games begin, and they involve eggs in a way they never have been photographed before onscreen. This is a movie combining gorgeous clothes and food for thought that makes it a must feel and smell, a sumptuous cinematic recipe ripe for the decade in which it’s set but one that is weirdly engaging in this one as well.
As I say in my video review above, the inspiration for Anderson (diving into British cinema this time around and bringing Day-Lewis back from his carpetbagging American roles of recent years along with him) is Hitchcock, with more than a touch of Rebecca and even a splash of Marnie and definitely Vertigo. With Krieps on board, it also somehow feels like the Hitchcock movie Audrey Hepburn didn’t get to make but clearly channeled through the unique mind of Anderson, a film-savvy writer-director responsible for such fever dreams as Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Inherent Vice, and of course There Will Be Blood, his previous adventure with Day- Lewis that also felt like a movie stitched together out of something not easily explained on first viewing. A scene where Reynolds takes Alma’s measurements in every possible way is compelling to watch, filling the screen with a sensuous air that puts conventional sex scenes to shame. With a few 70mm film prints of this film promised, it is a spectacle to be seen in a theater and nowhere else for a while.
Costume designers no doubt will embrace this love letter to themselves, and Mark Bridges’ (The Artist) contributions for the clothes cannot be underestimated, but this is a PTA creation right down to the stunning uncredited cinematography he did himself. If this is to be Day-Lewis’ swan song as an actor, at least in movies, than it’s a memorable one to say the least as he takes Woodcock into some unexpected places only a master of the craft might allow themselves to venture. Krieps takes command as well, making Alma desirable but distant all in the same frame. She keeps us guessing long after the lights go up.
But for my money it is Manville who steals the show in a turn that is all-knowing and delectably supporting, one worthy of whatever awards are out there in this area. A big shout-out also to Jonny Greenwood’s lilting score that could have come straight out of a Douglas Sirk movie. Producers are Anderson, Daniel Lupi and JoAnne Sellar. Focus Features is the distributor of the Christmas Day release.
Do you plan to see Phantom Thread? Let us know what you think.