Phantom Thread Review


Every few years, Daniel Day-Lewis makes an announcement that he's retiring from filmmaking. He did so after Lincoln, but lo and behold, he returned to acting for his second collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread. Now he states that this is his last film and that he will be retiring. I certainly hope not, because both the actor and the director once again knocked a film out of the park. Paul Thomas Anderson is one of America's greatest contemporary directors, and Phantom Thread serves as further evidence as the power of the director's cinematic vision. While it's not exactly a follow up to There Will Be Blood, it's in the same dramatic ballpark for the director-actor partnership, but it takes a more subtle approach to the telling of an eccentric, explosive artist, and his relationships with those around him. 


Reynolds Woodcock is pretty much the best dressmaker in 1950s London, probably the best in Europe overall. He charms the ladies with the dresses he makes, as well as his classy appearance and demeanor, and it is this charm and professionalism that allows him to easily woo Alma, a waitress with no real ambitions of her own, but whom grows to accommodate and inhibit Woodcock's own ambitions. Their tumultuous relationship, with Woodcock's eccentricity and anger issues boiling over consistently and Alma's refusal to submit to his aggressive outbursts, boasts the main narrative tension of the film, and PTA has never been one to shy away from argumentative storytelling. Even in his most lighthearted film, Punch-Drunk Love, some of the best scenes lie in the arguments that happen between Adam Sandler and the other characters. Daniel Day-Lewis provides a more reserved performance than in films like There Will Be Blood or Gangs of New York, and his performance reminded me most of his character that he portrayed in A Room with a View. Speaking of that last film, this is the closest Anderson has come to filming a James Ivory screenplay, at least initially. The narrative took a few turns which I could not predict, as though it begins as a romantic drama, it quickly becomes more sinister. This is one of Anderson's best works as a writer by far, and though I still think films like There Will Be Blood and Punch-Drunk Love left a bigger initial impact on me, Phantom Thread is a little bit more subtle, and I feel like my love for the film may very well improve on repeat viewings. I definitely want to watch it again at some point.


Most people when analyzing the film's acting will no doubt initially be watching this for Day-Lewis's performance, and for good reason. He's one of the greatest actors of all time, and in the new millennium he has been extremely selective and dedicated to his roles. This role is no exception, but it still feels unique and different from his other performances. He brings depth and complexity to this second PTA collaboration centered around an egocentric artist, and unlike Daniel Plainview, he is more reserved, at least until his eccentricities are combated. Whereas the former role had him erupting in belligerent fury, Reynolds Woodcock has a more passive aggressive air about him. Lesley Manville plays a good role as Woodcock's mysterious sister whose past with her brother gradually unfolds, though the audience never truly learns everything about her, lending her performance extra mystique. By far the biggest breakout is (relative) newcomer Vicky Krieps, who plays Alma, Woodcock's love interest. She steals the show from Day-Lewis several times, especially so in two key dinner scenes. Overall, the cast as whole works excellent magic, which is no surprise for those who have seen PTA's other films, as he usually directs actors exceptionally well.  


Paul Thomas Anderson is well-known for having excellent collaborators in cinematography and sound, as his films always look exceptional. There is no official credit given for cinematography, and rumors say that Anderson shot the film himself, but he has said in interviews that the reason there is no credit is because the shooting of the film was a "collaborative effort." Whether the film was truly shot by him and he is just being modest, or if it truly was different people at different times, this film just looks excellent. I've admired PTA as one of the directors who refuses to shoot digitally and always shoots on film, as it helps to accentuate his style, and this film from a visual standpoint almost made me think of it as PTA's take on Barry Lyndon. Frequent collaborator Jonny Greenwood, whom has done the score for every PTA film since There Will Be Blood, provides a more reserved and somber set of sounds for this affair, and suitably so. The use of strings and orchestration in the film even suits the tonal changes, as the film gradually unfolds itself to its true form. I couldn't find a technical flaw in this film, and I always approach films from an extremely analytical viewpoint. Simply put, Anderson knows what he wants to convey, and he always conveys his vision with precision and honesty.


Phantom Thread is full of narrative surprises that keep you guessing until the last frame, but it's no surprise how awesome it is. If it truly is Day-Lewis's last film, he's gone out on a great note, and he's left behind a prolific catalog of fantastic acting work. Krieps and Manville add to the film immensely, and it's constructed with excellent composition throughout. It's well paced, moving, and a little disturbing all at the same time, and it's definitely worth all of the accolades it has received. This is definitely a massive improvement over Inherent Vice, a film I really do not care for, but then again, that specific film was an adaptation from an author I also do not care for. In this humble writer's opinion, Anderson is at his best when he executes original material from his personal vision, and I'm grateful he and his crew can still pump out quality works like this one. See it as soon as possible.