Daniel Day-Lewis’ final role is in a dark romantic drama set against the splendor of 1950s London.
Phantom Thread follows the obsessive and controlling dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he enters a complicated relationship with a young waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps). As with most of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, we have an aesthetically gorgeous character study. Anderson’s style cannot be denied, but his narrative heft doesn’t always connect with me. I tend to either love or feel indifferent towards his films.
Without being too obvious, Phantom Thread looks gorgeous. The soft lighting and detailed sets come to life as we get an intimate look into a troubled relationship. The acting is top notch, and Krieps becomes as much a force as Day-Lewis, which is a feat in itself. We are also treated to a wonderful soundtrack that knows when to back off during tense moments. The structural elements of this film are simply excellent.
The story itself, while interesting, might be a bit more divisive. Reynolds is a control freak, abusive, and completely uncompromising to the point of absurdity. His routine cannot be disrupted or he reverts to childish behavior. In many ways, Reynolds is a genius child—great at what he does, but anything that goes wrong seems to be the worst thing ever to happen to him. He is capable of being charming, tender, fierce, funny, obnoxious, and cruel within moments. His penchant for young women to model for him (and be in a relationship with him) leads him to consider himself a terminal bachelor, and Alma appears to be another in a long line of perhaps passionate, but troubled couplings. Alma’s motivations are not entirely clear until the film can be seen as a whole, and while this adds a level of mystery to the endeavor, it does make for a somewhat unbalanced first viewing. Further, Anderson’s films seem to always be better the more one watches them, so it is hard to say how much one will like this film the first go-around, particularly if they are not used to Anderson’s webbed narratives.
This film is likely to be lauded at the Academy Awards, and from a technical standpoint it certainly delivers. The dialogue and human interactions are likewise excellent. There are moments are beauty within language here that seem so rare in film currently.
I was surprised that we did not see more actual dressmaking in a film about a dressmaker. This might seem like an odd complaint, but when Alma is getting her measurements done by Reynolds we have a surprisingly compelling scene. How they managed to make dress measurements so interesting is beyond me.
Perhaps the greatest weakness of the film is that not everyone will agree that this is a story worth telling. It is hard to connect to these characters, particularly once the audience gains a bit of clarity as to some things kept hidden. I enjoyed the movie, and it is certainly well made, but there is a limitation here. I don’t think Anderson is concerned with having mass appeal, and that is likely part of the reason why his films can defy expectations so easily. This is not for the easily distracted or bored. If you’re looking for something a bit different, give this one a try. 8/10