Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps
Run Time: 130 mins
Phantom Thread is the latest film by director Paul Thomas Anderson and supposedly Daniel Day-Lewis’ final performance before he retires. Whether or not this actually happens or not, we shall have to see. But if it is, Phantom Thread is a fantastic note to end on.
Phantom Thread, for the majority of its run time, is engrossing and a masterclass in filmmaking. It is a fascinating character study of fictional fashion designer, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), who lives with his influential sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), and he creates dresses for higher society members. Reynolds develops an interest in a countryside hotel waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps) and they soon begin a relationship but Reynolds’ domineering personality begins and persists to clash with Alma’s.
Just like Anderson’s other films such as There Will Be Blood and The Master, Phantom Thread is thematically rich, interrogating themes of duality and what it means to be in a relationship. It manages to balance its realism with fantasy and the film at times, evokes a Brothers Grimm tale. On one side of the spectrum, there are equisiste scenes of women being dressed up to impress their Princes and on the other, seemingly innocent women mushroom-picking in the forest. This Brothers Grimm quality to the film is juxtaposed by a Hitchockian / Kubrickian tone of voyeurism, mystery and intrigue.
The duality of every character makes Anderson’s film all the more satisfying and engaging. I sympathised and loathed them at the same time and that is testament to the quality of the writing and the performances. Day-Lewis is sensational and surprisingly funny at times with the witty, sharp script he has to work with. Manville has, as well as Day-Lewis, been Oscar-nominated for her performance here and the chemistry she shares with him is perfect and I really bought them as on-screen siblings.
It is Vicky Krieps however, who perhaps impresses the most – Alma is a character who is effectively the audience gateway into the House of Woodcock, someone who is initially naive and shy but then develops. She is in many respects, the audience’s eyes into this rich world underpinned by a duality.
The film is shot beautifully. Phantom Thread doesn’t have a designated DP, many have speculated Anderson has shot the film. There are multiple breathtaking shots, my favourite a recurring riff of Reynolds driving his vintage car around the country, in which the way it it is shot echoes an Alfred Hitchock film. The score by Jonny Greenwood is rather frenetic but it has its moments.
Unfortunately, I didn’t buy the film’s final act. It would be a spoiler to disclose what happens but the film’s narrative heads in a particular direction that I couldn’t really get on board with and I began to feel a little uncomfortable at where the film was going.
Overall, Phantom Thread is one of the strongest entries in this years Best Picture line-up. It represents yet another high for director Paul Thomas Anderson and is a fantastic note for Daniel Day-Lewis to go out on, should this in fact be his swansong. It makes for a masterful character study and a real treat for cinephiles. I’m just a little unsure on the direction the film heads in its final act, as it doesn’t quite conform to the neatness the first two have. I suspect on further rewatching, this film will continue to unpack itself and there is a lot more to gain from it.
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