A few days ago I posted an article highlighting some of the main reasons I was excited about seeing the new Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis vehicle, Phantom Thread. Based on the three total page views that the article currently has (those 3 views actually belong to myself), I could only assume that you all were as excited for Phantom Thread as I was. The overflowing interest from my readers was a bit intimidating actually. I knew that I had to crush this one or risk disappointing the masses. So here goes nothing, my Phantom Thread review.
Phantom Thread tells the story of Reynolds Woodcock, a world renowned dress maker in London circa the 1950s. For all of his success in the garment business, Reynolds is unlucky in love. Despite his best efforts he is unable to find a woman that will both love him dearly and accept his at times maniacal obsession with his work. That is until after finishing a particularly high profile dress, Woodcock takes a short vacation and falls in love with a waitress named Alma. Alma seems to be the woman that Reynolds has been waiting for his whole life, but his work and Alma's desire to be more than just a passing fad in his life lead the relationship down a road to ruin.
Phantom Thread on the crust looks like a stuffy melodrama filled with period costumes and Oscar baity performances, but once you get about 20-30 minutes in you will realize that it is so much more than that. While the themes of Phantom Thread are steeped in love and heartbreak, they are just the gatekeepers to a story much more interested in talking about the passive aggression and mind games that romantic relationships boil down to.
Alma becomes trapped in a world that she knows almost nothing about, but is so deeply infatuated with Reynolds's incredible charm and stature that she will do almost anything to keep him in her life, or better said keeping herself in his. All of this may sound a bit underwhelming on paper, but when you see it directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and acted out by Daniel Day-Lewis it becomes much less of a depressing love story and much more like a horror movie a few crazy steps short of The Lobster.
P.T. Anderson is a master when it comes to directing actors to career defining performances. He has 7 times directed an actor that has been nominated for an Oscar for their performance and is responsible for countless unforgettable others. While not as vast of a cast as say a movie like Boogie Nights or Magnolia, which both were filled with amazing characters and performances, Phantom Thread trims everything down to about 4 total.
About halfway through the movie Reynolds is forced to make a dress for a woman by the name of Barbara Rose, played by Harriet Sansom Harris. Rose is both an alcoholic and lacking the typical body type of the women Reynolds usually makes dresses for. Her performance only spans about 3 scenes total, but plays such a pivitol part of the overall story. About half of her character lives in her performance alone, you almost forget to listen to the words that are coming out of her mouth and instead read her eyes. If a minor character could be this well done, just imagine how great the leads are.
I want to begin with Vicky Krieps who plays Alma. This is an incredibly difficult role to take. So much of her character is hidden behind a mask, and there are only a handful of times when she really gets to express herself through dialogue. When she does get the chance she makes the most of it, but those moments behind the mask are even more impressive. Acting next to the most accomplished actor in the world is also a tough comparison to make but she is certainly formidable enough.
I think it goes without saying that DD-L is incredible in Phantom Thread, but this is a role that we have not seen him in for quite some time. Anderson said in an interview that he wanted to get Daniel into a romantic lead, as he is so often cast in dominating roles full of machismo. In the beginning of the film Reynolds is devastatingly charming. It is no wonder why a young woman like Alma would fall so deeply for him so quickly, but just as fast comes his more obsessive side. Daniel Day-Lewis is known for falling deeply into roles and knowing that he had a hand in not only naming the character, but also helped P.T. quite a bit during writing shows that this character may be more personal than any he has played before.
The previous collaboration between Anderson and Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood, is an all time great. It is a slow burn but by the end you know that you have just seen something special. This put a lot of pressure on Phantom Thread, the expectations were as high as they could have been and while not a re-creation of that glory, Phantom Thread is exactly the movie it needs to be. It feels very personal for both director and lead actor, the later of which has stated that this will be his last film. It makes one wonder if the narrative of Phantom Thread played a part in Day-Lewis's latest retirement, but heres to hoping that he reconsiders and Phantom Thread finds immortality over time, just as There Will Be Blood did.