With its immaculate close-up shots, Phantom Thread is a visually attractive film, whose slow burn is arguably the only thing that keeps the curious feature from being more than it otherwise could. A pygmalion-romance-turned-sinister drama, the latest effort by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, is remarkable not only for the sumptuous costumes and set decoration, intriguing twists in narrative, but most certainly for the beautiful performances of its lead actors. In tandem with a sensitive screenplay and gorgeous soundscape (Jonny Greenwood), Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps create a felt dynamic that is both softly tense and hatefully sensuous.
Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a famous dress-maker, clothing royalty, nobility, and the super-rich. He runs the fashion-house with his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), who tries to preserve his creativity by maintaining a watchful eye over his business and emotional affairs. Declaring himself a “confirmed bachelor”, the greying and astonishingly handsome Reynolds acquires then quickly tires of eager female inspirations, until he encounters Alma (Krieps), a waitress at a restaurant.
It is not that the rigid, eccentric perfectionist changes his ways on Alma’s arrival into his life, — Reynolds rages at her for taking tea to him whilst he works, thereby introducing an interruption that will now be permanent — it is more that the young woman appears capable of settling down the man she loves so that he becomes “tender and open” when she wants him to.
So, in a manner somewhat far-fetched — admittedly far-fetched to the point of satire — the story follows Alma, patently the more feeble of the couple in power and wealth, as she turns the tables in her favour. Anderson seems to link Reynolds’ deceased mother and the defiant female character, or perhaps their demeanour towards him in times of distress, although the truth surrounding his unfathomable condonement of Alma’s outrage remains elusive till the end.
With customary skill, the director combines pressure and affection in a disturbing movie to demonstrate a deep understanding of women and men and the unspoken energy between them that is startlingly profound.