PLOT In the 1950s, a high-society dressmaker has difficulty controlling his latest muse.
CAST Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
RATED R (adult themes)
PLAYING AT Regal Union Square and AMC Lincoln Square in Manhattan. Opens locally Jan. 19.
BOTTOM LINE Day-Lewis’ declared final performance is perfect, the film less so. Sumptuously made, though, with a score to die for.
Any movie featuring the self-proclaimed final performance of Daniel Day-Lewis is bound to go down in the history books, especially one written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. You’d be hard-pressed to find two more highly acclaimed names in the movies: Day-Lewis, arguably the finest actor alive (“My Left Foot,” “Lincoln”) and Anderson, a visionary filmmaker with an unpredictable aesthetic (“Boogie Nights,” “The Master”). Their latest and supposedly last collaboration, “Phantom Thread,” about a successful fashion designer in the 1950s, is as ambitious and heady as you’d expect, but also surprisingly funny — perhaps a bit funnier than it means to be.
Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, dressmaker to royals and aristocrats. He serves them, though he is not of them. (His mother, he says, taught him to sew.) Woodcock’s fiefdoms are his home and his shop, and his subjects are essentially just two: His protective sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), and whatever beautiful muse Reynolds has not yet discarded.
When that spot opens up, Woodcock fills it with a roadside waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps, a Luxembourger actress little known in the U.S.). She’s plain, blunt and strong-willed, all of which Reynolds finds attractive, until he doesn’t. The more Alma disobeys Woodcock, the angrier he becomes, and the more she longs for his affection. This power struggle eventually leads Alma to a drastic maneuver: poisoning Woodcock to reduce him to a docile, dependent state.
Day-Lewis is sublime as Woodcock, a dandyish artiste whose utter lack of humor frequently makes him a figure of fun. (His face, as Alma scrapes butter across her toast during a silent breakfast, is the definition of dismay.) Krieps turns Alma into an appealing enigma: a country girl with her own sense of hauteur. Manville, however, is the standout as Cyril, one of those older Englishwomen whose perfect manners can be caustic as lye.
The cinematography (by Anderson and others, though officially uncredited) makes the whole film feel like a dream, and Jonny Greenwood’s haunting score is easily one of the best ever recorded. For all that, “Phantom Thread” ends with a twist that seems too simple — and a tad too silly — for such a work of beauty. It’s a major flaw in a film that, like one of Woodcock’s dresses, aspires to perfection.