Paul Thomas Anderson’s unwavering vision for a psychologically mesmerizing historical-drama of a vintage, 1950s London is a meticulously crafted specimen. While it takes it time to unfold, it is embroidered by a tremendous amount of mental manipulation, a harrowing sense of order—or lack thereof—and a little fashion. The calculated dressmaker, Reynolds Woodcock, is the finest craftsman in his line of work, and a bachelor throughout his endeavours. That is until he stumbles across Alma, portrayed by Vicky Krieps, an even-tempered waitress that succumbs under his professional and personal potency.
Every nook and cranny of the House of Woodcock accentuates the very precise selection of string and piano excerpts which blend into the curiously dark nature of this grandiose world. The unnerving crescendo complements Reynolds’ eloquent tongue, his gait, and his eerie attraction to Alma: he is equally terrifying as he is charming. A gothic Victorian mystique shrouds the plot as it transcends seamlessly from one single genre to another. It’s best characterised as an effortless crossover between AMC’s Mad Men and Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.
Thematically it broaches the topic of a lacking maternal presence and the subsequent ripple effect of Reynolds’ perverse view of women. Oddly enough, his stern-faced sister is always seen lurking somewhere in the picture, her peripheral existence acting as some kind of defence mechanism to shield him from relationships. While there are few doubts that he’d achieved certain metrics of success in the realms of haute couture, he doesn’t truly thrive until he begins to accept Alma’s irrevocable persistence in his life. As a caveat, though, each protagonist’s mental manoeuvring into the others’ psyche is a commentary on their emotional vulnerabilities. Reynolds blurts ‘what precisely is the nature of my game?’ at her, a rhetorical will-imposing question that lays out the rules of this two-player zero sum game.
The stellar acting was the necessary component to bring the fashion-fantasy thriller to life,and the cast executes in this capacity perfectly. Vicky Krieps’ subtle and memorable role is a robust big-screen debut and likely not the last time viewers see the Luxembourger actress. If this is the final cinematic appearance by DDL, it would seal a legacy that leaves behind one of the most selective yet robust filmographies of all time, with blockbusters like Lincoln and There Will Be Blood at the forefront of his work. And if it is, it confirms that possessing intense nose bridges wins Oscars—just ask Meryl Streep.
(Image courtesy of Laurie Sparham/Focus Features)