'Phantom Thread' Film Review
by Will Lindus
There’s an intricate and delicate charm to Phantom Thread, the latest Paul Thomas Anderson feature which casts Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock, a circa-1950s London dressmaker and clothier who is as renowned for his demanding nature as he is for his luxurious gowns. The meticulous life that Woodcock has crafted for himself faces upheaval when he meets Alma, played by the fiery Vicky Krieps, a young woman who both inspires and challenges him.
It seems fitting that a film about a fastidious and scrutinizing craftsman has been created by a director with those same imperatives. With Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson delivers another in a long line of masterpieces, a term which is not used lightly here. From a technical and artistic perspective, Phantom Thread is a feast for the senses. Every frame is imbued with impeccable hues and carefully planned angles. There’s a tactile sensibility to the way close-up imagery of threads and stitches are displayed; each such shot feels as though you could reach through the screen and caress the cloth. The garments worn by Alma have a weight to the fabric you can almost feel on your body as she floats from frame to frame.
This carries over to the sound design, especially in sequences that involve scissors cutting through hefty fabrics or knives cutting through crisp toast. Make no mistake: this is some of the best sound design of the year, perhaps not as flashy or as bold as some of the more action packed films to grace the cinemas, but essential nonetheless. To complete the tour of the senses, Anderson includes multiple shots of delectable meals, shot so eloquently that one can almost smell and taste and be consumed by each and every morsel.
If the previous paragraphs come across as excessively and even obnoxiously ornate, that is by design; it is important to recognize the artistry and technical merits of Phantom Thread, because those elements are what will likely receive the most critical praise. It is also those elements which helped carry me through the early scenes of the film, because admittedly, the story of Phantom Thread takes a while to unfold. In fact, it took until the second act for the film to truly dig its claws into me from a narrative perspective. The beginning of this film is proper and poised, which can often come across as tedious and stale in lesser films, and while Phantom Thread never allowed itself to stoop to those depths, I did find myself wondering what revelation could possibly elevate this film from simply being ‘beautiful to look at it.’
And then it happened.
I won’t spoil this movie, because the trailers and the marketing have done a remarkable job of obfuscating many of the crucial plot pieces which make this film so special. The narrative turns are best experienced first hand, unsullied and unspoiled. Suffice to say, this film is more than just ‘beautiful;’ it’s a goddamn work of art on all fronts, and I say this because of the complicated and messy and loving and challenging places this film discovers in the seams which bind Woodcock and Alma.
Part of the magic is in the casting; Daniel Day-Lewis is often considered one of the finest actors of his generation, and with this being his final film, it is fitting that he go out with a bang. Woodcock may not be the most powerful role he’s committed to film - Bill The Butcher and Daniel Plainview and a slew of memorable characters might beg to differ - but it is certainly one of the most subtle. In Woodcock, Day-Lewis finds bold, demanding strength hiding a layer of insecurity that bubbles to the surface only when Day-Lewis allows it to. His challenger, Vicky Krieps as his young lover Alma, is a revelation, and the stoic power of Lesley Manville as Woodcock’s sister Cyril steals the show on many occasions. Most incredible, though, is the depth of feeling the trio of actors are able to communicate simply through body posture and glances. There’s a scene - again, I'm being intentionally vague to avoid spoilers - where Alma and Woodcock simply look at one another, and in those looks they reveal volumes.
Bottom Line: There’s a scene early in Phantom Thread where Reynolds reveals that he likes to hide little secrets in his garments, sewn into the linings. This film is sort of like that, only instead, it wriggles into your brain and takes hold there. The beauty and the powerful acting stay in the forefront of your mind, but it is the subtext of the film that has the truest sticking power. I’ll be thinking about Phantom Thread and what it has to say about relationships and power dynamics and even loneliness for some time to come.
5 out of 5 Bear Paws