Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis: Lincoln) is a creature of habit. He gets dressed in a precise ritual. He eats breakfast in silence, working on sketches and preparing for the day. He depends on praise and adoration to fuel his creativity.
Reynolds’ quirks are tolerated because he is the genius behind House of Woodcock, a fine London couturier. His workers are the finest seamstresses in Europe, and his designs are sought by heiresses and royalty. Woodcock is the first name in fashion.
Women line up to serve as his muse and lover. They take his tantrums, accept his indifference and pray they can keep his attention long enough to get a custom dress and a share of notoriety. It’s a callous system but one tolerated by all.
Until Alma (Vicky Krieps: Gutland).
She’s has the ideal shape for his designs. She adores him. She accepts his demands with a benevolent smile. But there’s something beneath her calm surface. She begins to push back. She enjoys doting as he primps and fusses, but she won’t allow him to control her story or the relationship.
What follows is a battle of wills that puts the fun in dysfunction.
Gorgeously shot and performed, Phantom Thread is a quiet, chilling look at how relationships bring out the best and worst in us. Its title comes from invisible threads sewn into our garments. Woodcock takes to hiding messages and talismans in his clothing, and this obsession with the hidden truths we all wear drives the film. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice) is in fine form crafting a thriller out of what could be a staid relationship drama. Shots are high contrast, filled with shadow, to help build unease. Woodcock is often glancing around corners and framed off center in doorways, increasing the sense of something slightly off kilter.
Anderson is a master of exploiting little moments for massive emotional tension. Fraught looks turn sinister, and power dynamics are turned on their head. Sound design amplifies the scrape of a knife against toast, so you hear why Woodcock cannot start his day with such a racket.
In his final performance before retirement, Day-Lewis is astounding. He crafts a fascinating combination of ticks and peculiarities into a fully fleshed man who remains an emotional child.
As Alma, Krieps arguably has a more difficult job than Day-Lewis. She must be the picture of benevolence and calm obedience under which a sinister current runs. She conveys so much with a flick of an eye or the slight rise of a brow that she manages to steal several scenes. A woman who knows what she wants and how to achieve it, Alma may be better at playing gender role games than Woodcock.
Sumptuous clothing, claustrophobic interiors and stunning performances combine to make Phantom Thread the must-see relationship horror movie of the season. It’s well worth the ticket to check out this bravura farewell from one of cinema’s most respected stars.
Great Drama • R • 130 mins.
New this Week
Bilal: A New Breed of Hero
As a boy, Bilal (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) wanted to become a famous warrior. When he and his sister are captured and enslaved, Bilal changes his mind. Instead, he uses his singing talent to earn his freedom and improve his world.
Inspired by a true story, Bilal is an animated feature from the Middle East that gives life to a legend. If you and your family are tired of typical animated fare, this one offers a new culture and storytelling style.
Prospect: Bright • PG-13 • 105 mins.
After losing her husband and child, Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) feels cursed. The heir to the $20 million Winchester rifle fortune believes that the souls of all the people killed by her husband’s weapons are haunting the family.
To confuse and trap the spirits, Sarah begins an elaborate home with stairwells that lead nowhere and doors that don’t open. There may be more to her story than a grieving woman’s paranoia. Is the Winchester mystery house keeping the family safe? Or are the spirits still finding a way to torment them?
Based on the real-life construction of the so-called Winchester Mystery House, this movie postulates real spirits were driving Sarah. With Mirren adding classically trained acting to jump scares, this one should be worth the ticket.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 99 mins.