The Story/The Direction:
The film is set in London's fashion world in the 1950s and is about dressmaker, Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Manville) dress important women from all around the world from members of the royal family to debutantes. Reynolds is a bachelor and women come and go as he sees. After one big project, Cyril recommends he travels to the countryside and here, he meets Alma (Krieps) who changes his life for better or worse, depending on the point of view.
Anderson’s direction of the tone change as the film progresses. He does not allow the audience to know where the film is going until the very end. This romance would be looked at as toxic but where it goes is beyond what most would think. This film may take place in the fashion industry but it is not about that at all. It is about obsession, love, control, and surrender. Anderson has also done the cinematography in the film which allows him to have full control over the film. Each frame feels like a mixture of Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock and the story itself is very reminiscent of the latter’s Rebecca and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Every aspect of this film is done to a tee from Jonny Greenwood’s score to the costumes and the house that the Woodcocks live in. Greenwood’s changes in orchestration are done with a purpose and honestly seems very close to another character.
This film is apparently Day-Lewis’s last film role and if this is true, he goes out on a high note even if it is not his best performance. He is able to make his character believable even though he is immensely distinct. Reynolds is a very peculiar man that has a quiet morning ritual where he polishes his shoes, brushes his hair, and has his quiet breakfast with tea. If someone disrupts this process, they are dismissed or he becomes angry with them. Even his sister does not try to change his way of life. He is an apparent genius and like a god so his will must not be disturbed. When he meets Alma, he continues his controlling ways on their first date by saying “I like to see who I am talking to,” by removing her makeup. Though she seems at first glance to be just like the rest of the women he has been with, she is not. She is not the model who only does what he tells her. “Maybe I like my own taste,” and “If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose,” she says to Reynolds. She is willing to be his equal. He and Cyril do not like that she is changing things around. As their romance progresses, there is an obvious power struggle but Alma deals with it in a very interesting way to bring Reynolds back down from his pedestal. Even though initially against her, Cyril is able to see the problems with Reynolds and starts to stand up for herself. Both Manville and Krieps do fantastic in their roles that show women who do not remain in service of their “master.”
While Alma eventually becomes an equal to Reynolds, she does feel a little empty. The audience is given very little on who she is and who she is outside of the Woodcock household. This can be forgiven at the beginning of the film as she does not exist until Reynolds sees her which makes sense. However, nothing really changes from that as the film progresses. She apparently has no life outside of him, no friends or family. At least with Jane Eyre, Bronte gives the readers a sense of her want to find a home while also being looked at as an equal. Alma is not given the same treatment and she becomes more of a plot device than a person. As a film that is supposed to be about these two people and their relationship, the development is really only one sided. The audience only sees the changes that Reynolds goes through and Alma struggling to have him see her way. She is only the object that he must overcome rather than a person, herself. This film also feels a little long at 130 minutes as it dragged at points. It could have been cut down by 15 or 20 minutes and very little would have changed from the plot.
If this is truly the last appearance of Day-Lewis on the big screen, this performance is reminiscent of his elegant career. He is known to be one of the most selective actors in Hollywood and his career has been nothing short of great. This team up with Anderson and him is another successful one though not as good as There Will Be Blood. The film looks and sounds fantastic and could also gather nominations for Best Costumes, Best Actor for Day-Lewis, Best Actress for Krieps, Best Supporting for Manville, and Best Score for Greenwood. Even with its length and character problems with Alma, it is a great film that is worth seeing at least once when it comes out on Blu-ray or video on demand.
Rating: 4.0/5.0 bowties
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