Phantom Thread Review
*This Review Is 100% Spoiler-Free*
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the greatest filmmakers in the business.
That basic truth has remained constant for over two decades. Anderson's filmography is nigh-untouchable, containing several all-time classic films where other directors struggle to make even one. As a writer and director, Anderson has crafted stories that stand the test of time, uniquely American sagas dealing with heavy themes and crafted with consummate artistic sensibility. Anderson's second feature Boogie Nights, a Scorsese-influenced sojourn into the pornography industry of late-70's/early-80's California, put the young prodigy on the map; Punch-Drunk Love, Anderson's fourth feature, showed that the man's talent was such that he could even coax a jaw-droppingly good performance out of Adam Sandler; 2007's There Will Be Blood, Anderson's fifth film, earned him his first Academy Award nominations and is widely considered to be one of the greatest American films ever made. Following the critical success of There Will Be Blood, Anderson made two more feature films (2011's The Master and 2014's Inherent Vice) and a musical documentary (2015's Junun), however unfavorable comparisons to his Daniel Day-Lewis-starring masterpiece unfairly damaged those films' reputations in many people's minds.
When rumors began to spread that Anderson would not only be writing and directing a new feature film set in the world of 1950's London fashion, but that he would be re-teaming with Daniel Day-Lewis to do so, film lovers around the world rejoiced. Anticipation grew even stronger when Day-Lewis revealed that the upcoming film, titled Phantom Thread, would feature his final performance as an actor. What was it about this particular film, this particular performance, that led Day-Lewis to believe he had given the world all he had to give? Would the film (and the performance) live up to the hype? Following several weeks where the films was playing only in select theaters, Phantom Thread has finally received a wider release and answered these questions for audiences around the country. The film that emerged from this second collaboration between Anderson and Day-Lewis is nothing short of magnificent.
First, the plot. Phantom Thread tells the story of Reynolds Woodcock, a celebrated dress designer in 1950's London. In order to decompress from a recent job, Woodcock retreats to his home in the country. While at breakfast, Woodcock meets Alma, a waitress who charms the perfectionist designer at first sight. Before long, Alma has moved into Woodcock's London home, both as a lover and as an employee in his workshop. Their relationship is far from what one might label "healthy," and the film chronicles the disruption Alma causes to Woodcock's carefully crafted daily routines. To describe the plot further would be to do a disservice to the experience of watching this film for the first time.
The performances are uniformly riveting from the cast's three main actors. Day-Lewis is typically brilliant, however those expecting a flashier, showier performance more akin to his work in There Will Be Blood or Scorsese's Gangs of New York may be disappointed. Day-Lewis uses essentially his normal speaking voice to portray the role of Woodcock, allowing the larger-than-life screen presence to underplay for a change. The result is an often subtler performance that nevertheless operates as a showcase for Day-Lewis' considerable talent; the man does not need a handlebar mustache or a top hat to give an unforgettable performance. Luxembourgian actress Vicky Krieps goes toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis as Alma and manages to more than hold her own against arguably the greatest film actor of all time. Krieps plays Alma as a tender lover that nevertheless refuses to be broken by Woodcock's exacting temper. Her strength as a character is palpable and readily evident on Krieps' face at all times. The trio of leads is rounded out by Lesley Manville as Woodcock's equally steely sister, Cyrill, his business partner and confidant.
The film is perfectly crafted as well. Anderson, serving as his own director of photography for the first time, shot the movie on 35mm film, lending it a beautiful quality of picture that highlights every detail in the frame. Anderson uses the camera to evoke a feeling of tense claustrophobia within the Woodcock residence, in which most of the film takes place, to heighten the drama of these people being forced into close quarters with one another and make the audience feel just as uneasy as the characters. The sound design of the film is similarly spectacular; the film's sound team managed to create the most irritating, piercing versions of typically mundane activities, such as buttering toast or pouring tea, to force the viewer into Woodcock's headspace, where every tiny disturbance is an unacceptable indignity. The score, once again by Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood, is heavily piano-based and perfectly fits the tone of the film; it may even top There Will Be Blood's score as the best of Greenwood's collaborations with Anderson.
From the film's opening sequence depicting Woodcock's carefully constructed routine for getting ready in the morning, to the film's delightfully twisted ending, this is a singular experience that will keep viewers enraptured throughout. If this is truly Day-Lewis' final film role, he selected a strong one to bow out on. And Paul Thomas Anderson, still at the height of his directorial powers more than two decades later, once again does not disappoint. Phantom Thread is the best film of 2017 by every measure and should not be missed under any circumstances.
What did you think of Phantom Thread? What's your favorite Paul Thomas Anderson film? What's your favorite Daniel Day-Lewis film? Leave a comment below!