Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Camilla Rutherford
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Any film that features what might be the last performance of Daniel Day-Lewis is certainly worth one’s time. If that film happens to be written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson – he of Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and The Master – you know you’re in for what will likely be an especially rewarding experience.
Phantom Thread marks the second collaboration between actor and filmmaker after 2007’s There Will Be Blood, for which Day-Lewis won the second of his three Oscars. In this movie he plays Reynolds Woodcock, a fashion designer to the rich and famous in 1950s London, and an obsessive creature of habit whose carefully observed life routine is turned upside down with the arrival of Alma (Vicky Krieps), a bashful young waitress he meets and takes as his romantic partner and muse.
The beauty of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films is that they can’t be distilled down to a single sentence for the purpose of explaining what they’re about. His best work is complex and layered. And Phantom Thread is no exception.
Reynolds is reticent, but also rigid and unwavering in his demand for structure and routine in his life. You could drive him up the wall if you scraped butter across your toast too long at breakfast, or poured coffee in a way that distracted him. Day-Lewis is nothing short of sublime as the humorless dressman, and Krieps is a revelation as the country girl who must not be underestimated. The filmmaker works up a mood of great tension like in a terrific dinner scene between Reynolds and Alma that quickly escalates from slow-burning suspense to intense melodrama.
The other standout performance is by Lesley Manville who plays Reynolds’ quietly terrifying sister and business partner Cyril, an unshakeable presence in his life, committed to making sure he has what he needs – while taking care of what he doesn’t – to function effectively.
The film is essentially a three-hander, and it coasts along nicely as a romantic drama with an undercurrent of comedy, until it veers off in a completely unpredictable but surprisingly delicious direction. There’s a chance you might be conflicted about the ending – as I was – but spend some time thinking about it and I think you’ll appreciate the perverse sort of ‘happy ending’ Anderson delivers to his protagonists.
Like his best films, Phantom Thread is visually sumptuous and elegantly staged. Its potency, however, rests in the relentless power play between its characters. Daniel Day-Lewis announced last year that this would be his last film; that he was retiring from acting. If that is indeed true, it would be fair to say he’s gone out with a bang. In his hands, Reynolds is a fascinating figure; an eccentric, entitled artiste that you can’t take your eyes off.
I’m going with four out of five for Phantom Thread. It’s many things at once. Sit back and let the film work its unique charm.