Thursday, December 28, 2017

MOVIE REVIEW/Phantom Thread
The Muse To Perplex And Amuse?

Daniel Day Lewis in the background, as Reynolds, studying Vicky Krieps, who plays Alma, in Paul Thomas Anderson's 1950s fashion drama "Phantom Thread". 
Focus Features

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Thursday, December 28, 2017

Like the cold raindrops that hit the back of your neck on a windswept afternoon, "Phantom Thread" tingles as delectable and wickedly clever entertainment about the inner threads that get pulled in relationships.  The audience is the string.  Paul Thomas Anderson has fashioned his best, most mature film to date.  Set in 1950s London, obsessive male fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis) is fastidious to a fault.  His biggest love perhaps, is that he "can sew almost anything into the canvas of a coat." 

Reynolds' fashions are worn by royalty, socialites, politicians and any other well-heeled denizens but who wears Reynolds?  There's Reynolds and then there's Reynolds' Wrap.  There's needle and there's thread.  Who is weaving whom?  An abusive figure, Reynolds is the most isolated, grumpiest, hardest-working designer in the business (we see no others) and Alma (Vicky Krieps) becomes the latest muse to don his fashions.  "I feel as though I've been looking for you for a very long time," Reynolds confesses with a mix of relief and sorrow to Alma, who studies Reynolds with a sense of caution.  "Whatever you do, do it carefully," she advises him.  Alma, plucked from a waitress job, must encounter the even frostier Cyril (Lesley Manville), sibling and protector of Reynolds' heart and president of the Woodcock empire. 

The elegance of "Phantom Thread" isn't lost but is steeped in melancholy.  The costumes are beautiful and eye-catching.  Those in the costumes look miserable.  People in 1950 or now don't design clothes with smiles on their faces but Mr. Anderson, who writes a lyrical and metaphorical script, does all the smiling and winking.  "Phantom Thread", itself cloaked in a certain way, is more tragicomedy than Masterpiece Theater.

Mr. Day-Lewis, never better in his film career, gives such a literal, real-time mapping to Reynolds that he doesn't portray a film character but an everyday human being, a very palpable one.  The performance is a great swan song of tremendous subtlety, dexterity and seamlessness single-handedly making Mr. Anderson's drama a suspenseful experience.  Characters warn of love and secrets and the dangers tied to both.  The ingredients?  A miserable man.  A fashion brand success.  A woman reasonably happy but not satisfied in love.  Intermediary Cyril (aka the audience) sits back -- and waits for an outcome.

Each scene in "Phantom Thread" lingers, stews and tantalizes like a mouthwatering treat for your palette.  This film dangles like a thread.  Something hovers in the dank London air.  Mystery swirls, enchantment builds and reveals arrive.  "Phantom Thread" relies on interpretations of what we're watching as too perfect, too safe and too convenient.  What is really going on underneath this film?  Are relationships like garments?  Is work the ultimate expression of love?  Is love the ultimate expression of work?  Is Reynolds tailoring dresses or tailoring Alma?

The suffocating, claustrophobic atmosphere is a luxuriating, gnawing and fascinating aspect of "Phantom Thread".  Women surround Reynolds.  Some scenes are drenched in fabric.  Control is Reynolds's mandate, and lining dresses with women's names or sentiments is akin to marking territory, adding to the tension brooding throughout.  Jonny Greenwood's brilliant score is a clue to whether you view "Phantom Thread" as a comedy or a drama.  Mr. Greenwood, a frequent collaborator with Mr. Anderson, develops a score that is pure character.  The tempo, volume and presence of the music is key to "Phantom Thread".  The film could be a meditation on mental states and illness.  Perception is everything, and people will certainly vary on what Mr. Anderson's imagery and fine team cinematography convey.

Vicky Krieps provides a richness to Alma, a Mona Lisa of sorts.  Her facial expressions convey pity, sadness and malcontent all at once.  Like Da Vinci's masterwork, the longer you experience Alma the more you can't stop absorbing her.  Alma is hypnotic.  Something is different, though.  It is tough to put a finger on.  Is there a gender war afoot?  Ms. Manville is excellent as Cyril, the most humane character of what appears a loveless lot.  Cyril's sense of protocol and order are telling points in "Phantom Thread" and her relationship with Reynolds is intriguing. 

"Phantom Thread" is about many things including freedom and restraint, and how those two things get in the way of or dance around each other.  To enjoy freedom in 1950 at least, inevitably means someone experiences or endures oppression or repression.  Who is free and who is not liberated?  The implication of freedom and imprisonment are there to be discovered and debated. 

Also with: Brian Gleeson, Jane Perry, Gina McKee, Camilla Rutherford.

"Phantom Thread" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for language.  The film's running time is two hours and nine minutes. 

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