Phantom Thread ★★★★½


The opening lines in Paul Thomas Anderson’s new feature 'Phantom Thread' are spoken by Alma (Vicky Krieps), a young British woman with an indefinite Continental slant in her accent. In hushed, carefully-chosen words, she tries to articulate—to an initially unseen listener—the peculiar topography of her relationship with Reynolds Woodcock, an eminent fashion designer in 1950s London. This fireside chat serves as a framing device, with Alma’s flannel-soft voice occasionally drifting in and out of the flashbacks that comprise the bulk of the film. She speaks of Reynolds in the present tense, but her worlds are wistful and reflective. She is attempting to make sense of her years as a muse, lover, and eventually wife to a dreadful, difficult man. As she tells it, Reynolds is a handsome and debonair romantic, and an undeniable master of haute couture—but also an insufferable, supercilious prick with some serious Mommy Issues.

At times, it’s devilishly easy to lose sight of Alma’s centrality in this story, if only because Reynolds Woodcock is played by Daniel Day-Lewis. The actor’s formidable shadow veritably looms over the past three decades of English-language narrative cinema, with his singularly esteemed reputation attributable in part to his demonic performance in Anderson’s 'There Will Be Blood' (2007). Everything about Day-Lewis seems designed to draw the eye: His impossibly regal, Roman profile; his seething, squinting facial expressions; his coiled, ever-present whiff of volatility; his facility for grandiose yet mesmerizing monologues. The marvelous conceptual canniness of 'Phantom Thread' lies in how Anderson—one of the great living American filmmakers, and certainly the most consistent in his greatness—turns Day-Lewis’ overpowering presence into a feature, not a bug. Indeed, it’s challenging to imagine another actor in the role, not because Reynolds Woodcock is such an instantly iconic character, but because the irresistible, elemental force of Daniel Day-Lewis is so crucial to the film’s resonance...

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