Movie Review: Phantom Thread



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by Jason Koenigsberg

The movie that Daniel Day-Lewis has stated will be his last before he enters retirement is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. He has worked with writer/director P.T. Anderson before on There Will Be Blood (2007) which earned Mr. Day-Lewis his second of his record three Best Actor Academy Awards. He certainly has nothing to prove and has solidified his reputation as one of the best actors of all time. Well if this is indeed the final time we see Daniel Day-Lewis on the big screen, he went out on a high note. Taking place in 1950’s London, Phantom Thread tells the story of Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) a successful fashion designer that has his routine lifestyle disrupted by his affection for a younger, strong willed woman, played terrifically by newcomer Vicky Krieps. 

Phantom Thread opens up on the face of a woman (Krieps) half in shadow and half in a flickering light as she explains what it is like to be the companion of Reynolds and how he is so controlling and dominating, sometimes it is as if she is with a spoiled child.  Also  she explains the blessing it is to be in his company and partners with a genius. Right away the audience is shown shots of his morning routine and the director is showing off his extravagant sets and keen attention to every exquisite detail in this world he recreated. The costumes are splendid as they should be considering the subject matter. While we are visually hypnotized into this film, the sumptuous score by Johnny Greenwood entrances the audience into the film even more. Phantom Thread may be the years most beautiful picture both visually and acoustically. Right away the viewer will know that the actors and directors did their homework. Their extensive research into the  subject and time period shows through on screen as a symphony of images and sounds that reflects a beautiful marriage of the finest caliber of talent. 

This is the first time Daniel Day-Lewis has acted onscreen since his third Best Actor Oscar win for Steven Spielberg in Lincoln (2012). Long breaks have often been the norm for this method actor and has taken five year sabbaticals between roles before. His style of living in the role takes so much out of him that he cannot perform and give one hundred percent to a role unless he can be allowed time to mentally transform himself into character. His fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock specializes in dressmaking for the wealthiest women in Europe. He is very controlling, manipulative and obsessed with his routine that when he allows a woman to become his muse and later his lover and eventual life partner, it disrupts his lifestyle and Reynolds erupts in volatile explosions. This character fits in perfectly with the rest of the Daniel Day-Lewis filmography of difficult and historical roles he has portrayed and ranks pretty high among them. 

The other two main characters are women, his aforementioned muse is played elegantly by Ms. Krieps, however Best Supporting Actress consideration should go even more to the terrifically understated and always underrated Leslie Manville as the work partner and keeper of Mr. Woodcock’s business and mental stability. She is a talented British actress who often appears in Mike Leigh films. Here she gets a chance to galavant onscreen in a manner of subtle and sterile calmness that is worthy of much praise and admiration. She creates an interesting power struggle between the two women of Reynolds life, the one who knows and manages his work and estate versus the younger woman who loves him. All the of the actors ingratiate themselves in their performances and are an absolute pleasure to watch even as they are doing things that manipulate and hurt the other characters, but ultimately that is the heart of the film. Phantom Thread is a love story that does not shy away from the fact that people are capable of doing horrendous acts to the people they love and care about the most. It is especially poignant that the word ‘love’ is seldom mentioned. Early on the characters tiptoe around it but never say it to one another until one scene in particular and once the word ‘love’ is finally uttered is has a powerful effect. 

Paul Thomas Anderson continues to release films that rank high in the pantheon of the medium as true artistic visions. He has often been known to duplicate or mimic the styles great directors that came before him, most notably Martin Scorsese with Boogie Nights (1997), Robert Altman with Magnolia (1999) and with Phantom Thread he is clearly borrowing heavily from the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock. It is not a crime thriller but instead a tale of love and deception with themes similar to Vertigo (1958) and has even more in common with Hitchcock’s first American film, the gothic romance/mystery Rebecca (1940). The duel between the two women, the sanctity of the estate versus the desires for love and companionship. Even the name of Woodcock’s muse, Alma, is probably a nod to Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville, who was more like Lesley Manville’s character as Hitchcock’s work partner and made tremendous contributions to his films from script supervisor to helping make cuts in the editing room. Phantom Thread also has a wicked humor throughout that is uncommon in modern films but was always laced in Hitchcock’s films. Phantom Thread joins a small list of the greatest movies Alfred Hitchcock never made such as The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) and One Hour Photo (2002). It is also one of the finest, most beautiful and sumptuous movies of 2017. 

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