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Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018 12:04 am

Thread unravels in the end

Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock in The Phantom Thread.

As we all know, expectations are a double-edged sword. While they may inspire us so that we may exceed them, at times they can be so great they simply can’t be overcome. The best example I can think of this, in regards to films, is The Godfather: Part III, an underrated movie that has the misfortune of simply being “very good,” thus ensuring that it will forever live in the shadow of its two exemplary predecessors.

The same line of thinking can be applied to Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Phantom Thread, a fine film in its own right and his latest collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis. When they last worked together, the result was 2007’s There Will Be Blood, arguably one of the great movies of the early 21st century and one that looms large in the canon of both these artists’ work. Thread does not reach the delirious, dramatic heights of their previous partnership – there’s an initial subtlety about the film that prevents that – yet it is still a work of note that will yield much on multiple viewings, and, if Day-Lewis’ assertion that this is his final movie is true, is worth taking in simply to see this master at work one last time.

The actor is Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned designer in London’s 1950s world of fashion. Demanding, meticulous and temperamental, he’s at loose ends, fighting that old ennui as he’s fallen out of love with his latest partner and lacks inspiration. On his way to his country home to recuperate, he stops by a local inn and becomes completely enamored with Alma (Vicky Krieps), a clumsy, yet naturally beautiful waitress.

Immediately he recognizes her as his new muse, and Woodcock begins a distinctive courting ritual that we assume he’s employed before.

What ensues is a variation on Pygmalion as the designer tears Alma down to her core (note his wiping away of her lipstick) so that he might resurrect her in his own image. Initially, she’s a willing participant, dazzled by the attention and overcome by the glamour of it all. However, disillusion sets in and, being far smarter than he takes her to be, Alma turns the tables on her master in an intriguing, surprising way.

This is perhaps the most sumptuous film of 2017 as Anderson and his production designer Mark Tildesley immerse the viewer into the rarified world Woodcock and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) inhabit. The best of everything – food, clothes, homes – are on display in their finest light, it being suggested throughout that the artistry surrounding these things simply can’t be appreciated by the common man. It’s a gorgeous film that does not rely on green screens or computer generated effects to wow us.

Day-Lewis really is something to behold as he commands the screen each time he appears, his presence pervasive throughout. One of the screen’s great chameleons, he disappears in order to create this obsessive, demanding man who suffers no fools and is blind to the fact he’s his own worst enemy. Krieps manages to match him step for step and even comes to dominate the film’s final act, which is no simple feat, all things considered.

The film begins to fray towards the end as Anderson becomes heavy-handed in his approach and narrative elements begin to be needlessly repeated. Once Alma’s revenge becomes plain, it’s emphasized in a far-too-obvious scene that, had it not been included, would have made for a far more subtle and effective climax. While Thread is worth seeing, Anderson lets greatness slip through his hands, intent on employing a sledgehammer when a blind stitch would have been more effective.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.


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