'Phantom Thread' probes the intriguing psychology of obsessive control
- Written by Diane Carson
It's the 1950s in staid, upper-class London where Mr. Reynolds Jeremiah Woodcock designs and oversees the creation of the most elegant, gorgeous dresses for society's elite. Protected by his dour sister Cyril, Woodcock exists in a self-enforced bubble, regimented and undisturbed beyond fitting sessions for his wealthy clients. And then the German waitress Alma will upend both Woodcocks' worlds.
She happens to serve him at a country hotel during his retreat from the pressures of his job. Woodcock decides Alma will serve as his perfect model for his clothes, and, smitten by his attention, she acquiesces, joining him and his humorless sister. A narcissistic perfectionist, Woodcock enforces his will on all within his hermetically sealed sphere of influence, including his silent, toiling seamstresses. An intricate study of the controlled and the controller follows with exquisite precision both psychologically and physically. Minute details matter and loom large as the relationship among these three individuals progresses. Nothing going on in the outside world matters, and yet within this house, everything is at stake--from life to death.
Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, who also shot the film, employs a camera that flows through scenes as elegantly as his characters. Leading that parade, a chameleon with captivating charisma, Daniel Day-Lewis again demonstrates some superhuman ability to disappear into his character, striking the most complex and constrained notes, a designer of both incredible talent and yet devoid of social graces or indulgence. Vicky Krieps as Alma embodies a chilling subordination, pliable and needy, suggesting Woodcock has found the perfect mannequin. And yet this most straightforward relationship hides a wealth of facets and pitfalls as Alma shifts from malleable vulnerability to convincing resistance. Lesley Manville's Cyril provides ballast to every potent interaction. No less important, Jonny Greenwood's music interlaces a harmonious commentary, at times subtle but more often explicitly attention grabbing as Anderson's "The Phantom Thread" sublimely dramatizes a pas-de-deux of obsession and passion. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Cinema and check local listings for other possible locations.