Thursday, January 11, 2018

Movie with Abe: Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Released December 25, 2017

Craftsmen are often hopelessly devoted to their work, striving for and never stopping in the pursuit of achieving perfection. For visual arts, how something looks is everything, and therefore every small element has to appear just right. For a dressmaker, each and every stitching must be accurate, and the garment must be tailored to the wearer, all the while bearing the signature style that can only be identified as that of the artist. It’s no surprise that a story about such a man would feature a protagonist so wrapped up in the glory of his work that nothing else could possibly compare.

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a respected dressmaker in 1950s London. He works closely with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) to supervise his staff and ensure that top clients are happy with the clothing that he works tirelessly to perfect, and it’s his opinion over the client’s that matters most. After asking Cyril to dismiss a live-in companion who has become irritating, Woodcock pursues a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps), who comes to be a big part of Woodcock’s life, refusing to be cast aside when he insists on spending every waking moment obsessing over his craft.

Day-Lewis is an actor well-known for immersing himself entirely in a character, and to say that this is a role tailor-made for him is an accurate and easy pun. At first, Woodcock appears softer and sweeter than most of his roles, particularly the villainous bullies he played in “Gangs of New York” and “There Will Be Blood,” but as the allure of a new relationship begins to fade, Woodcock reveals himself as an anger-prone, completely selfish person who cares not one bit for the whims of others but insists on dominating every moment of his day, usually with silence to enhance his concentration. Krieps is a wonderful foil, as Alma acts almost on behalf of the audience to refuse to accept his demeaning behavior, laughing it off as the utter ridiculousness that it is. Manville, who has previously played much sunnier and talkative characters in films like “Another Year,” is buttoned-up and serious, demonstrating her loyalty to her brother and showing just how little she is afraid of him when, in rare instances, she does speak up to judge him for his behavior.

Paul Thomas Anderson is not a director known to make short films. There’s nothing about this story that demands it clock in at two hours and ten minutes, which feels much longer thanks its repetitive nature. The film has a dated, dreamlike feel that succeeds well in trapping the audience in this cyclical world of Woodcock smiling and then chewing out anyone around him for not living up to his highly demanding professional standard. The costumes, cinematography, and art direction all enhance an experience that is most potently a visual one. Day-Lewis is reliably good and Krieps in particular delivers a superb turn, but this film sometimes feels just as excessive as its protagonist’s need for complete quiet during each meal so that he can focus.


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