Movie review: Like all Paul Thomas Anderson movies, “Phantom Thread” is both strange and mesmerizing. Daniel Day-Lewis, who has said that this will be his final screen performance, turns in a masterpiece of silky irritability as 1950s fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock. 4 stars out of 4.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” casts a remarkable spell; it wraps around you, like a delicately scented cashmere shawl woven from music and color and astonishing faces. Set in 1950s England, it’s a story in which little, on the surface, happens. Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a fashion designer whose elegant atelier (upstairs in his London town house) creates meticulously constructed, beautifully restrained clothing for wealthy socialites. A young waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps), catches his eye and becomes his muse and his lover — to the dismay of his imperious sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), who runs her brother’s business. Because this is a PTA movie, the relationship between Reynolds and Alma takes an odd turn. Exquisite garments are constructed; glorious music is played; and three actors quietly take us on a journey.
Like all Anderson movies (most recently “Inherent Vice,” “The Master,” “There Will Be Blood”), “Phantom Thread” is both strange and mesmerizing. But he’s trying something different here: romantic drama, with a touch of thriller and an unexpected dab of dark comedy. Hitchcock references are everywhere: in the names of Woodcock and Alma (the real-life name of Hitchcock’s wife and collaborator), in the “Vertigo”-like references to the way the dead watch over the living, and the way Hitchcock’s 1940 film “Rebecca” casts an elegant shadow over the entire film. (This is, by the way, a double feature I am going to have to make happen at home, soon, so I can see how Manville’s Mrs. Danvers-ish glower compares to Judith Anderson’s performance.)
But Anderson weaves in his own touches. Acting as his own uncredited cinematographer, he drenches the film in faded but still-rich color (like Technicolor worn soft), buttery walls and gentle firelight. Sound is amplified: we hear the metallic scrape of butter on toast, the tiny click of a hook-and-eye fastener on a dress, the sigh of a pin decisively puncturing satin. Mark Bridges’ costumes act both as armor (note the ruthless simplicity of Cyril’s exquisitely fitted black dresses) and as art. And that…