You are either on-board with Daniel Day-Lewis or you aren’t. He doesn’t make “popcorn” movies and has never touched a Hollywood blockbuster. His films rarely end within 120 minutes and they aren’t always that accessible. He stars in the kind of movies which gets critical plaudits but can baffle audiences with bum-numbing runtimes and bizarre character performances.
That is why the prospect of a distant, almost tyrannical fashion designer who falls in love with his muse and creates a destructive relationship may not fill many with excitement while others will be rushing to get their tickets at the box office. As someone who usually falls into the former group, it was pleasantly surprising to watch a Day-Lewis movie and a performance as encapsulating as this one.
From the moment the movie begins you realise that Day-Lewis’ character, Reynolds Woodcock, would fill the role of tortured genius. He is an angry, bitter and cold individual who makes far too much fuss about loud butter on toast while he is trying to design at the breakfast table. Already you dislike him but in his usually charming way, Day-Lewis manages to make the character watchable and interesting and you find yourself intrigued to where the story will go next.
Where it leads is to his finding his “latest” muse and love interest, Alma, played with a Day-Lewis matching performance by Vicky Krieps. A character which initially begins as naïve, bemused and star-struck slowly begins to see the designer for what he is and this is where the story becomes interesting.
This movie is a love story of sorts but one filled with conflict and double-crossing. As Woodcock becomes more aloof and distant towards his new muse, she finds ways to keep him entangled in her web and this game of relationship one-upmanship makes for a compelling movie.
The story never goes the direction you believe it will and keeps you guessing towards it’s conclusion. It is the transformation of Alma which makes the movie work so well; as she goes from a love-struck mistress to a controlling and scheming wife who will do anything to stay in control.
There is a third character in this bizarre love story and this is Woodcock’s sister, played by a great, sour-faced and domineering Lesley Manville. Her contribution to the story adds a extra, well-needed depth and she becomes an anchor to the story that the audience can hold on to. Her interactions with Alma make for some of the more interesting and the change in their relationship works effectively too.
Which is why the finale is so disappointing. The ending doesn’t go anywhere and if it is an attempt at ambiguity, it fails. A film desperate for a conclusion goes the route that so many Day-Lewis movies do and leaves the audience frustrated.
Overall, Phantom Thread is a movie with two fantastic performances which bring an interesting love story to life. Daniel Day-Lewis is as impressive as ever and makes an obnoxious character work effectively while the journey that Vicky Krieps Alma takes holds the greatest interest. Poor ending aside, this is a movie of pleasant surprises.
Rating – 4
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