"Phantom Thread" Review
Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis, a match made in cinematic heaven. Both have immense talent and are painstakingly meticulous about their craft. Ten years ago these two combined forces to make There Will Be Blood. The film received eight Oscar nominations as well as Day-Lewis going home with the Best Actor statuette. After some time apart, and another Oscar for Day-Lewis, they have rejoined to make their second feature, Phantom Thread. Both a pristine costume drama and a dark comedy in disguise, Phantom Thread is one of the year’s best films. It’s a fitting farewell to Day-Lewis, one of the best actors of all time, who revealed he would be retiring after this role.
Set in the 1950’s, the film follows the meticulous and calculated life of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis). He’s a renowned dressmaker who runs a world famous London shop with his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville). Reynolds expects nothing less than perfection from everything he does and from everyone around him. After being a lifelong “confirmed bachelor”, Reynolds meets the much younger, and more vibrant, Alma (Vicky Krieps). Their relationship quickly gets serious, which proves to be both a blessing and a curse as their differences begin to collide. This creates an uncomfortable range of emotions and incidents that slowly test each character’s limits.
What starts out as a seemingly simple film eventually turns out to be a multi-layered recipe used by PTA to engross his audience. He lures us in with the costumes and drama but then takes us for a wild ride by incorporating jokes and sexual tension. It’s all done so well and blew away my expectations away as the story progressed.
While the film does run on for too long in some parts, PTA’s knack for creating interesting and unique dialogue is very evident. Each confrontation is fresh as the characters come up with new ways to express their displeasure. A highlight is a certain dinner scene where Reynolds and Alma fully let loose as they try to understand what motivates the other. It’s exciting to watch and gives us so much insight into the underlying factors for each character.
This film almost acts like Anderson’s attempt to model Hitchcock, but without the horror. He uses suspense as a dramatic tool as we never really know what Reynolds is going to do next. He also uses a bit of sexual foreplay to express each character’s inner workings. It’s very subtle but gets the point across marvelously. One could call this film the arthouse version of Fifty Shades of Grey.
The cinematography surprisingly is done by the PTA himself, even though he claims he isn’t the cinematographer. Whoever actually did it, they did a marvelous job. This is the best shot film of the year, except for Blade Runner 2049. The camera seamlessly weaves throughout the house as it showcases the extravagant world of Woodcock. It almost became natural for me to be lost within the frame as I watched the technique PTA would use. Specific highlights include the opening tour of the Woodcock shop, the tracking shot of Reynolds walking through a party, and a slow zoom in of Reynolds and Alma together.
Jonny Greenwood also deserves heaps of praise for his brilliant score. His mastery of strings and piano bring class to the picture. The score almost acts as stitching as it seamlessly extends the impact of every scene it is in.
The acting in this film is as typical as you would expect in a PTA film, it’s amazing. Daniel Day-Lewis is his usual astounding and commanding self, continuously breaking the line between character and actor. He makes Reynolds so unbelievable by his actions, but also believable because of the authenticity and commitment he brings. The character of Reynolds almost acts as a vessel for Day-Lewis as he illustrates to us all the work he does behind the scenes to prepare for a role.
Rising to the occasion is Vicky Krieps as Alma. Everybody in the past has played second fiddle to Day-Lewis, but Krieps breaks past that mold. She goes head to head with him countless times, fearlessly holding her own and coming out on top. She’s dominant and lively and acts as a perfect opposite to Reynolds.
Lesley Manville is also a scene stealer as the sister, Cyril. Early on we can tell she is the more aggressive one of the siblings as she instinctively pushes down anyone in her path. Manville gives the right amount of shrewdness to make herself invaluable to the film and overall pleasing to watch.
Is this film a dark comedy, period piece, or a sexual thriller? It’s all three at once, which makes for an unforgettable experience. It’s probably Anderson’s best film and one of Day-Lewis’ best performances, which is saying a lot when you look at their respective careers.