ReelBob: ‘Phantom Thread’ ★★½
By Bob Bloom
You are more impressed than entertained by “Phantom Thread,” writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s drama about a famed dressmaker in post-war 1950s England.
The film features gorgeous costumes, sumptuous set designs, an elegant score reminiscent of a movie from the 1950s and solid performances by Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville.
“Phantom Thread” unravels a bit in its story, which shifts tone and mood from a Pygmalion-like romance to something almost Hitchcockian.
Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock who, with his sister, Cyril (Manville), are the epicenter of British fashion. Reynolds creates dresses for royalty and the rich, while Cyril runs the business side of the House of Woodcock.
Their relationship feels creepy and emotionally incestuous They are co-dependent, with Cyril keeping Reynolds in check by catering to his every whim and calming him when he appears ready to explode.
Their daily routine is disrupted by the appearance of Alma (Krieps), a waitress in a hotel near the Woodcocks’ country home. Reynolds, dining at the hotel, takes an immediate like to Alma, invites her to dinner that night and then returns to London with her.
Krieps, at first, infuses Alma with a naiveté and wide-eyed fascination with the new world into which she is whirled by Reynolds.
She appears vulnerable and pliable, standing for Reynolds as he uses her as a model for his designs and his muse for inspiration.
But as the movie progresses, so does Alma who, in her quiet manner, is stronger than she has let on.
Day-Lewis, who claims that he is quitting acting, portrays Reynolds as a man-child whose world easily becomes discombobulated when his daily routine is interrupted.
He is a passive-aggressive control freak who insists of quiet, loathes confrontation and, as he puts it, is a confirmed bachelor as his work is his life — and his wife.
His lack of emotion and continually turning inward makes for someone you fail to relate to or connect with. He is a selfish narcissist who cares only for his work
“Phantom Thread” is a three-way mental chess match as Reynolds seeks to maintain a status quo, Cyril does what she can to shield him and keep Alma at bay, while Alma ever so slowly infuses herself into their dynamic.
Manville’s performance is the less showy of the three, yet she exudes a steely determination to protect her brother and all that they have built.
In her eyes, every person to whom Reynolds is attracted is an interloper and a threat to all they have built.
The movie gradually alters its mood, growing darker. The whys and wherefores you will have to discover for yourself.
At 130 minutes, “Phantom Thread” slowly unspools its story, yet it does not lag. Anderson is most precise in his storytelling, while the cinematography by an uncredited Anderson, lingers on fabric and hands sewing to convey the delicacy and intricacy of Woodcock’s world.
Anderson, though, fails to answer a primary question: What is Alma’s fascination with Woodcock? He is so shut off and self-absorbed that you cannot understand his appeal, especially to a woman so much younger than him.
“Phantom Thread” is a rather strange confection that may leave you amused, befuddled or even disappointed when you leave the theater.
It’s one of those movies you marvel at while watching, but, like an old dress, will soon fade as time passes.
I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
2½ stars out of 4