In sickness, and in health. The scene is 1950’s London, where fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is regarded as one of the best—if not the best—dressmaker in the couture world, running his business with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). His attention to detail and control in the couture world has carried into every facet of his life; he fills his need for companionship by rotating women, many of whom model his dresses.
Everything changes when Woodcock lays his eyes on a particular waitress during a lunch in Alma (Vicky Krieps). The love is there on both sides, and soon, Alma moves into Reynolds’ house and serves as the ultimate spark for his work. However, she can only take so much of his stubborn temperament. Most women, often at the behest of Woodcock, just leave when it gets to this point, but for Alma, she is a different breed. For the first time in his existence, Woodcock will meet his match.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the few directors who can sell a movie on name alone. His latest in Phantom Thread would be a must-watch regardless of cast, but there’s this ever-so-small news floating around that his movie is the last one that actor Daniel Day-Lewis will ever appear in. With these two reuniting for the supposed final time, Phantom Thread is peak PT Anderson (for better and for worse) and DDL operating at the levels we’ve come to know of them.
Phantom Thread shares a similar striking, pastel-like, worn-in visual style as many of PT Anderson’s recent flicks. Sometimes, it’s surreal, other times, realistic, but regardless, it is a world that is impossible to not become engrossed with. Throw in the meticulous costume designs by Oscar nominee Mark Bridges along with a rich and debonair score by composer Jonny Greenwood that often juxtaposes the events on screen with a conflicting sound (in a good way), and Phantom Thread has few equals on the production side of things.
Anderson’s film takes a concentrated look at a few things. Mainly, the psyches of true artists in how what makes them great also makes them extremely difficult to be around for most people. The aspect of power dynamics framed in more of a traditional father/mother relationship is evident as well. Really, Phantom Thread isn’t a story-driven feature; that’s not to say that there isn’t one, but to articulate it isn’t the easiest to do. This is a character-centric feature through and through. What isn’t present in story momentum is there in dialogue. You want to hear these main characters engage in conversation, much of it surprisingly funny in a subdued fashion.
The focus on character leads to spectacular acting work from the three leads. Would anything else be expected in DDL’s last performance? His Reynolds is yet another role that allows the legendary actor to disappear completely into it. Anytime food is involved seems to bring out the worst, and a middle runtime dining scene is almost 100% assured to be played during the Best Actor award announcement. It’s the little things, like Lewis’ delivery, timing, mannerisms, and the like that add another notch to the belt that is his filmography.
While he necessarily doesn’t get upstaged, Vicky Krieps without a doubt goes toe-to-toe with Daniel Day, and seeing her character evolve from semi-meek to completely assured is a treat. Balancing the entire movie is Manville in a job much more critical than initially to be believed, and she too shows steely versatility in handling both Reynolds and Alma’s most negative aspects.
Spearheaded by a superb direction and awesome cast work, Phantom Thread is a well-tailored film. Would anything else be expected?
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