Daniel Day-Lewis announced that he was retiring from acting and that the Phantom Thread would be his last film. Unlike Peyton Manning, who retired after wining the Super Bowl, Phantom Thread will not provide Day-Lewis with a similar winning moment. The actor is famous for losing himself in his roles and he certainly does that again as Reynolds Woodcock, a designer in 1950s London who is fawned over by his wealthy and royal clients. Day-Lewis has the designer act down, from the way he handles a needle to the constant sketching of gowns to the meltdown when his fashions are being paraded before the critics. Like so many artists, Woodcock is single-minded in his approach, relegating those around him to a supporting cast that is necessary, although on most occasions annoying.
Daniel Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville
Woodcock’s company and, in fact, the designer himself, is managed by his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville). A confirmed bachelor, Woodcock even leaves it up to Cyril to break off relationships, which we are led to believe, never last for very long. That’s until he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress he meets on one of his visits to his countryside home. Shortly after ordering his breakfast (Welsh raerebit with a poached egg on top, bacon, sausages, jam-not strawberry-and lapsang tea), he invites her to dinner. After the meal, he undresses her, not to have sex, but to design a dress for her. At this point, we know Alma is never returning to waitressing, but will become his muse.
Alma is a curious choice for Woodcock’s inspiration. And here director Paul Thomas Anderson does something quite right, casting the unknown Krieps as Woodcock’s Eliza Doolittle. She’s not conventionally beautiful, but she commands attention when on screen, particularly when she’s wearing one of Woodcock’s creations. The fashions are breathtaking. (Costume designer – Mark Bridges)
Alma is no fool. She not only falls in love with Woodcock, but she understands him and what he needs. It comes down to one thing – mothering. Woodcock still has dreams about his mother and the wedding dress he designed for her when he was a child. Cyril may have once fulfilled that role, but now Alma is committed to taking over. And what’s the one thing that mothers do best? Taking care, lovingly, of a sick child. In Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, mushrooms were used to off a Union solider. Alma won’t go that far, but her omelette soon have Woodcock as her patient, and a willing one at that.
Woodcock, Hitchcock? The parallels are there, making Phantom Thread less about romance and more about survival.
Top: Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis
Photo Credit : Laurie Sparham / Focus Features
There’s a Fellini-esque beginning to Tom Ford’s new film, Nocturnal Animals. As the opening credits roll, plus-sized women, nearly naked, dance, grimace, and perform, mimicking beauty contest winners and majorettes. When the camera pulls back, we’re in a gallery owned by Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), who sits on the sidelines looking unimpressed and bored by her latest art installation. (The women are now lying facedown on platforms.)
The new exhibition is declared a success, but Susan is not in a celebratory mood. Her husband, Hutton (Armie Hammer), didn’t show up for her opening, the couple’s relationship as cold as their steel and glass home. Susan suggests they try to reconnect by spending a weekend at the beach, but Hutton announces he must fly to New York to rescue a deal. Despite their opulent surroundings, they’re going broke. And, he’s having an affair.
Michael Shannon and Jake Gyllenhaal
Susan’s ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), a writer, has sent her his novel, which he dedicated to her and titled Nocturnal Animals, a nod to her inability to sleep. Since she hasn’t spoken to him in 19 years, she’s both pleased and perplexed by his gesture. When she begins reading the book, however, the violent story that unfolds in the pages is unsettling and pushes her to revisit their relationship and how it ended.
Susan and Edward grew up together in West Texas and reconnect after they bump into each other in New York. Over lunch at a posh restaurant, Susan’s mother, Anne (a delicious Real Housewife turn by Laura Linney), discourages her from marrying Edward, a “weak” man who will never make enough money. Susan balks at her mother’s assessment but comes to the harsh realization that she’s more like her mother than she wants to admit. An artist, Susan shunned the struggling lifestyle of a creative for the lucrative business side of running a gallery. When Edward won’t give up trying to become a novelist, she leaves him. But marriage to Hutton proves to be even less satisfying.
The novel’s protagonist, Tony (played by Gyllenhaal), is driving to West Texas with his wife, Laura (Isla Fisher), and daughter, India (Ellie Bamber). They are chased by some local ya-hoos and forced off the road. This is Deliverance on a lonely highway and Ford draws out the scene until it’s almost unbearable. Laura and India lash out against the men, while Tony tries to reason with them, a strategy that is ineffective and merely makes him look, yes, weak. Two of the men drive off with Tony’s family and he’s dumped in a deserted area. He finally finds his way to civilization and reports his missing wife and daughter. The local cop, Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), who takes on the case, bonds with Tony and the two work for two years to bring the men to justice.
Tom Ford’s first film, 2009’s A Single Man, starring Colin Firth as a gay man in the 1960s who was unable to openly mourn his lover, received very positive reviews. Nocturnal Animals proves he’s no one shot wonder. He’s both a talented writer and director. And, of course, his fashion genius is evident in the film’s styling, from the outfits worn not only by Adams, but by one of the gallery workers played by Jena Malone, to sets, including the gallery and the Hutton home. Even the table decor, in several of the scenes, is eye-catching.
Adams’ character is multi-facted and the actress brilliantly transforms herself, depending upon where Susan is in her life story. Small touches make a difference. With bright red lipstick, her hair sleek and worn to the side, she’s the ice queen, tamping down her emotions. The younger Susan who fell in love with Edward, wears no makeup and is open and vulnerable. It’s telling that when she agrees to meet her ex-husband, she wipes off her red lipstick, ready to bring back the old Susan before she became too much like her mother.
Gyllenhaal delivers one of the best performances of his career. As Edward, he nails the sensitive, sincere small town boy who marries his first crush and can’t believe his good fortune. But when things go south, his efforts to make her stay come off as desperate. When we finally learn at the end of the film how Susan delivered the final blow that ended their marriage, we understand that perhaps the novel was not so much dedicated to her as aimed at her.
Nocturnal Animals opens nationwide November 18, 2016.
Photo Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features